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Last Updated

21 Feb 2003

Source: Associated Press, February 20, 2003

No Serious Reactions to Smallpox Vaccine

By LAURA MECKLER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) No serious reactions have occurred so far from the smallpox vaccinations given to more than 4,000 American civilians, federal officials said Thursday.

In the military, where more than 100,000 people have been vaccinated, there have been five serious reactions.

The civilian program, intended to vaccinate close to 500,000 public health and hospital emergency room workers, is now being administered in 27 states and large cities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. As of Wednesday, officials had inoculated 4,213 people.

None has had a reaction considered potentially life-threatening, severe or moderate, the CDC said. There were seven people who had reactions that included fever, rash, malaise, itching, hypertension and inflammation of the pharynx.

The Pentagon is not disclosing precisely how many soldiers have been vaccinated, but says the total is ``well over 100,000.'' All five men who have experienced serious reactions four in the Army and one in the Air Force are in good condition, officials said.

Two had encephalitis, one had a heart infection, one developed a rash known as ``generalized vaccinia'' and one may have had "ocular vaccinia,'' where the virus used in the vaccine migrates to the eye. In most cases, the symptoms were not severe.

In addition, the Pentagon said, two members of the Air Force and four Marines had mild rashes that may be generalized vaccinia, though the conditions were so mild that experts are not sure that they meet the definition.

Based on historic data, experts expect anywhere between 15 and 50 life-threatening reactions out of every 1 million people vaccinated for the first time, with one or two deaths. People being revaccinated are less likely to have bad reactions.

Routine smallpox vaccinations ended in the United States in 1972, as smallpox was on the wane. No one has contracted the disease in this country since 1949, and the last naturally occurring case anywhere was in 1977.

Experts fear the virus could return in an act of bioterrorism, and President Bush started the new vaccination program in December.