- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

President Bush will mandate smallpox vaccinations for up to a half-million military personnel and make the vaccine available to all Americans on a voluntary basis to guard against a bioterrorist attack, senior administration officials said yesterday.
The first step will be the military vaccinations and a plan to offer the vaccine to emergency medical workers and response teams within weeks, the officials said.
The public will be offered the vaccine as soon as large stockpiles are licensed, probably in early 2004. Mr. Bush will announce his plan tomorrow.
Smallpox was declared eradicated from nature in 1980, but intelligence analysts believe at least four nations, including Iraq, have unauthorized stocks of the virus. Analysts fear that it could be used by hostile nations or terrorist groups in an attack.
Mr. Bush, who struggled with the decision for months, had to weigh the dangers of the disease against the risks associated with the vaccination, which uses a weakened version of the deadly virus.
He talked about the broad outlines of his plan yesterday on ABC's "World News Tonight."
"I think it ought to be voluntary," Mr. Bush said of the civilian part of the plan. "It's going to be very important for us to make sure there's ample information for people to make a wise decision."
First lady Laura Bush, asked whether she would want her 21-year-old twin daughters inoculated against smallpox, replied: "If the vaccine were available, which I think it will be, I would feel like that was certainly safe for them to do. I know there's a slight risk."
Mr. Bush is expected to recommend smallpox vaccinations for about 500,000 emergency workers and smallpox-response teams that would investigate suspected cases. The White House officials said a similar number of military personnel would be ordered to get the shots.
The vaccine will be made available to all Americans, though the government probably will not encourage them to get it, senior officials said.
Based on studies from the 1960s, medical officials estimate that 15 of every 1 million people vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening complications, and one or two will die. Reactions are less common for those being revaccinated.
Using these data, vaccinating the nation could lead to nearly 3,000 life-threatening complications and at least 170 deaths. But the administration concluded that the government could not make it available only to some people.
Federal health officials are preparing a massive education effort to help people decide whether to be vaccinated. Polls, including one released yesterday, show most people would get the vaccine if given the chance. But health officials fear that many people do not adequately understand the risks.

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