Former CIA Director Calls for All U.S. Residents To Receive Smallpox Vaccine
All U.S. residents should receive vaccinations for smallpox, former CIA Director John Deutch testified on Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 5/12).
Under the national smallpox vaccination program, which began in January 2003, federal health officials hoped to vaccinate about 500,000 health care workers in the first few weeks and as many as 10 million emergency personnel, police and firefighters in the second phase of the program. However, as of February 2004, fewer than 40,000 individuals had received the smallpox vaccine.
A report released in February 2004 by the Democratic staff of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security said that the program failed because of inadequate compensation for individuals who experienced side effects from the vaccine, a lack of funds to implement the program and inadequate focus by the Bush administration on the threat of smallpox attacks (California Healthline, 2/3/04).
Deutch, currently a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told subcommittee members that "smallpox vaccination is the single step that would best protect the American people from the catastrophic consequences of the most likely infectious agent that a terrorist might use today."
CDC has stockpiled more than 300 million doses of the smallpox vaccine -- an adequate supply to vaccinate all U.S. residents -- since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, federal health officials have delayed mandatory mass smallpox vaccinations because the current vaccine could cause side effects in individuals with skin conditions or compromised immune systems.
HHS officials within the next few weeks likely will issue a request for proposals for a new smallpox vaccine, a contract that could total $900 million. Acambis and Bavarian Nordic are the most likely candidates for the contract (CQ HealthBeat, 5/12).