U.S. Military Defers Smallpox Vaccinations for Soldiers With Heart Disease Risk
U.S. military officials last week announced that they will defer smallpox vaccinations for soldiers who have "strong risks" for heart disease, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/5). Late last month, the CDC recommended that people with three or more major risk factors for heart disease, including smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, not receive the smallpox vaccine. The recommendation comes after a Maryland woman and a Florida woman -- both health workers -- and an unidentified 55-year-old National Guard member died of heart attacks after receiving the vaccine and several other vaccine recipients experienced heart difficulties (California Healthline, 4/1). About 350,000 military personnel already have received the smallpox vaccine. Military officials said last week they do not expect to defer many planned vaccinations because few active-duty soldiers experience heart problems. According to a Pentagon statement, 150 military personnel were treated for heart attacks each year between 1990 and 1998 (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/5).
Local health officials around the nation have said that federally mandated smallpox preparations are "stealing scarce resources" from other essential public health efforts, the AP/Dallas Morning News reports. A recent survey of 718 local public health agencies by the National Association of County and City Health Officials found that 53% of respondents said smallpox and bioterrorism planning is distracting them from other health services, and 79% said concentrating on smallpox is taking away from other bioterrorism preparations. Local health officials warn that declining budgets and rising demand for bioterrorism preparedness will hinder childhood immunization programs, tuberculosis prevention and other efforts and will lead to more outbreaks of tuberculosis, hepatitis or other preventable diseases. For example, Seattle has experienced its worst outbreak of tuberculosis in three decades, according to Dr. Alonzo Plough, public health director for Seattle and King County, Wash. Plough said smallpox preparation has "forced trade-offs in everything we do" (AP/Dallas Morning News, 4/6).
In related news, the Philadelphia Inquirer today examines the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Smallpox Vaccination Program Implementation, which is charged with advising the CDC on how to improve its vaccination program for civilians. Unlike many IOM panels, which deliver reports after several years of research, the smallpox committee is expected to deliver reports every few months. The committee's most recent report advised the CDC to "think more strategically" about how many people need to receive the smallpox vaccine for the nation to be prepared for a potential attack. The committee is scheduled to meet next month to discuss how the vaccination program is being implemented at the state level (Uhlman, Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/7).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.