Smallpox Vaccine Side Effects Should Include Heart Inflammation
The list of "serious but uncommon" side effects linked to the smallpox vaccine should include myopericarditis, according to a U.S. military study published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. The study examined 18 cases of probable myopericarditis, or heart muscle inflammation, found in the 230,734 military personnel who participated in the military smallpox vaccination program between December 2002 and mid-March; the rate of myopericarditis cases -- about 78 per one million individuals -- was more than triple the rate expected in individuals who did not receive the vaccine, according to the study (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/25). The military smallpox vaccination program has reported 37 cases of myopericarditis in the 450,293 military personnel who received the vaccine between December 2002 and May 28; the 37 individuals have recovered, and physicians will continue to monitor them for long-term effects of the condition on the heart (AP/Wall Street Journal, 6/25).
The military smallpox vaccination program has led to few serious side effects and "is basically safe," according to a second military study published in today's JAMA, the Reuters/New York Times reports. "Most adverse events occurred at rates below historical rates," study authors John Grabenstein of the Military Vaccine Agency and William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense, wrote. The military smallpox vaccination program excluded pregnant women, individuals with compromised immune systems and those with chronic skin diseases (Reuters/New York Times, 6/25). "The really important news is that it is possible to conduct a mass smallpox vaccination in a safe and effective manner," Winkenwerder said. In an editorial that accompanied the study, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Mary Wright of NIAID said, "The observation that this smallpox vaccine can be administered safely in a 21st century population with a very low adverse-event rate is a critically important piece of new information." Some experts had raised concerns that increases in cases of diseases that can compromise the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, might leave the U.S. population more vulnerable to side effects from the smallpox vaccine today than before 1972, when smallpox vaccination ended in the United States (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/25). According to the Los Angeles Times, the results of the study should allow the civilian smallpox vaccination program "to proceed at a much faster rate than it has so far." About 37,608 civilian health care workers had received the smallpox vaccine as of June 13, the CDC said (Rosenblatt, Los Angeles Times, 6/25). The Bush administration had hoped to vaccinate 500,000 health care workers by Feb. 24, one month after the smallpox vaccination program began (California Healthline, 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.