National Smallpox Vaccination Program a Failure, Democratic Staff for House Committee Say
A report released on Wednesday by the Democratic staff of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security called the national smallpox vaccination program a "failure," CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 1/30). Under the voluntary 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 (California Healthline, 9/9/03). However, to date, fewer than 40,000 individuals have received the smallpox vaccine. The report said that the program has failed because of inadequate compensation for individuals who experience 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. In addition, the report questioned whether health care workers who received the smallpox vaccine under the program are "properly positioned" to address large-scale smallpox outbreaks. "This program quickly ground to a halt and nothing has been done to fix it. Either the administration needs to tell the country that smallpox is not an urgent threat or it needs to take immediate action to get us prepared," Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), ranking member of the committee, said. Democrats on the committee have written a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to request their assessments of the program. Thompson said on Thursday that the program "may have stalled for now, but that doesn't mean we won't push" to vaccinate more health care workers in the future (CongressDaily, 1/30).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.