- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

While the Bush administration has been puzzling over the details of homeland security legislation, recent reports suggest that it may fail to add a small but vital piece of protection allowing all Americans voluntary access to the smallpox vaccine.

Specifically, it appears that the administration is leaning toward a tiered approach on smallpox inoculations offering the vaccine first to approximately 500,000 military personnel and 500,000 healthcare workers, and then to about 10 million first responders. We support that plan. While the vaccine could eventually be offered to all those citizens who sign up for clinical trials, it is not clear when that will happen, if at all. Not giving other Americans a choice would be both a missed chance and a potentially serious policy failure. Given the vaccine's potentially fatal side-effects, it's understandable that decision-makers are hesitant. Yet, Americans currently have no other means to defend themselves from a potential smallpox attack. They, not the government, should be allowed to chose between the evils.

Sen. Judd Gregg New Hampshire Republican and soon-to-be-chairman of the Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has promised to make smallpox vaccine availability his first order of business. He should. The choice of a smallpox inoculation is far too important to be left in the hands of anyone but individual citizens.

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