Bush To Announce Smallpox Vaccination Plan Tomorrow
President Bush tomorrow plans to announce a national smallpox vaccination plan, under which military personnel and first responders would receive the vaccination "within weeks" and the general population could begin to receive the vaccine in 2004, the New York Times reports. Federal officials estimate that about 500,000 military personnel and 500,000 first responders would receive the smallpox vaccine in the first phase of the plan (Stevenson/Altman, New York Times, 12/12). The plan would require military personnel to take the vaccine and will recommend the inoculation for first responders (Meckler, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 12/12). According to the Washington Post, the plan would "mov[e] quickly" from the vaccination of military personnel to first responders -- which include health care workers, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technician volunteers -- and could involve the vaccination of as many as 10 million individuals in the first phase. However, federal and state health officials predict that many health care workers will decide not to take the vaccine (Connolly, Washington Post, 12/12).
Bush administration officials yesterday said that they expect the Pentagon to order the military to begin smallpox vaccinations in the next few weeks (New York Times, 12/12). Health care workers will likely not begin to receive the vaccine until after Jan. 24, when a provision in the Homeland Security bill passed last month that protects vaccine manufacturers and those who administer the vaccine from liability takes effect (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 12/12). Federal officials said that the government will not have an adequate supply of the smallpox vaccine to offer the inoculation to the general population until 2004. However, the New York Times reports that the government could allow U.S. residents to apply to receive the vaccine under FDA "investigational new drug" rules, under which individuals who make a "compelling case" that they require the vaccine may receive the inoculation (New York Times, 12/12).
Reports that Bush plans to announce his vaccination plan tomorrow received a number of reactions. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a supporter of the plan, said that large-scale vaccination will make enemies of the United States "less likely to use [smallpox]" in a bioterrorist attack. Frist added, "It's the right step to protect the American people and it's the right step to make our nation less vulnerable to those who would use smallpox to terrorize our citizens. This is a difficult decision, but it is the right decision." However, Dr. D.A. Henderson, principle science adviser for public health preparedness to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, expressed concerns about the plan and recommended a recommended more conservative vaccination plan that would inoculate between 15,000 and 20,000 individuals. Henderson said that he hopes administration officials will consider the results of the early vaccinations on military personnel and first responders before they move to vaccinate the general population. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said that the "success of a vaccination program is going to depend on our success in communicating with people accurately and openly" (AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 12/12).
In related news, two of three U.S. residents would take the smallpox vaccine, according to a new survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the AP/Nando Times reports. In the survey, researchers conducted telephone interviews with 1,002 adults between Oct. 20 and Oct. 30 and found that 60% of respondents cited concerns about a smallpox attack on the United States. The survey also found that 65% of respondents said they would take the vaccine; 22% said they would not take the vaccine; and 14% had no opinion. Researchers said that they did not inform respondents of the side effects of the vaccine. According to the AP/Times, 15 of every one million individuals who receive the vaccine will face "life-threatening complications," and between one and two will die (Meckler, AP/Nando Times, 12/12). Acting HHS Assistant Secretary Jerome Hauer estimated that the rate of individuals who take receive the smallpox vaccine will decrease to about 50% when they "learn more about the vaccine's risks," the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 12/12). Bush, in an interview yesterday with Barbara Walters on ABC's "20/20," said, "And what's going to be very important is ... to make sure that there's ample information for people to make a wise decision" about smallpox vaccination (New York Times, 12/12). The administration plans to launch an education program to inform the public about the risks associated with the smallpox vaccine after Bush announces a vaccination plan, the Wall Street Journal reports (Lueck/Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 12/12). The RWJF survey is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the survey.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.