CDC Panel Advises Against Expanding Smallpox Vaccination Program
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices yesterday advised against expanding the federal smallpox vaccination program to millions of emergency response workers, citing concerns about the safety of the vaccine, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 6/20). Under the Bush administration vaccination program, which commenced in January, about 500,000 health workers were scheduled to be vaccinated in the program's opening weeks. The second phase of the plan was scheduled to inoculate up to 10 million health workers, firefighters, police and ambulance personnel. Yesterday federal officials said that the military and civilian smallpox vaccination programs have "virtually come to a halt," as the military has vaccinated nearly all eligible recipients and the civilian program has seen dwindling numbers of volunteers (California Healthline, 6/19). The CDC panel yesterday adopted a draft resolution saying that beginning the second phase of the vaccination program is "unwise" because the possible risks of giving the vaccine to people with potential heart problems "are not yet known," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Marchione, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/19). A Maryland woman and a Florida woman in April -- both health workers -- and a 55-year-old National Guard member died of heart attacks after receiving the vaccine (American Health Line, 6/19). At least 21 instances of heart inflammation have been reported among vaccinated health care workers, and similar reports have come from the military vaccination program, the Journal Sentinel reports (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/19). The advisory panel suggested that studies on the link between the vaccine and heart trouble be completed.
The CDC is conducting a six-month assessment of its smallpox preparedness efforts and expects to suggest to the Bush administration increasing the focus on education and training, emergency response exercises and faster reporting of suspicious disease outbreaks, Joseph Henderson, the agency's chief bioterrorism official, said. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said that while the administration will review the panel's recommendations, it is likely to encourage individuals to be vaccinated (Washington Post, 6/20). Gerberding said the panel's recommendation "is not the only source of advice" the agency receives, adding, "[W]e've been saying all along with smallpox, this is a situation where we are balancing public health issues ... with homeland security issues" (Shoichet, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/20).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.