- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — Smallpox shots might have triggered a painful heart inflammation in a very small number of emergency workers vaccinated in the aftermath of 9/11, researchers say.

A study in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association showed a higher rate of heart inflammation cases than ever documented before in people who received smallpox vaccinations.

“I think that was completely not anticipated,” said Dr. Inger Damon, an author of the study.

Overall, however, researchers reported after looking at nearly 700,000 civilians and military personnel that the vaccine appears to carry an extremely small risk of serious side effects.

Health officials continue to advise patients with heart disease to skip the vaccination.

The United States ended routine childhood vaccination against smallpox in 1971, and the World Health Organization reported the disease was eradicated in 1980. But fears of a bio-terror attack employing the virus prompted the U.S. government in 2003 to vaccinate certain members of the military and create the voluntary vaccination program for so-called first responders, such as police and health care workers.

The smallpox vaccine, Dryvax, made by Wyeth Laboratories, has long been suspected of triggering neurological complications, including encephalitis, in rare cases. But Dryvax was not associated with heart problems until 2003, when three adults died of heart attacks. As a precaution, health officials advised people with heart disease to skip the vaccination.

One of the studies published today looked at emergency responders, a group made up largely of female health care workers ages 40 to 64.

Researchers counted 100 potential cases of serious side effects in 37,901 persons who got the shots from January to October 2003. Among the 100 were 21 cases of nonfatal heart inflammation and six heart attacks, two of which were fatal.

Researchers said they can’t tell if the heart attacks were caused by the vaccine. They said the number of heart attacks wasn’t out of line with what would be expected in a patient population of that size and age range.

But the rates of inflammation were higher than those seen in previous studies. Further research may help determine whether these cases were triggered by the vaccine, said Dr. Damon, chief of the pox virus program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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