Where does the smallpox vaccine campaign stand now? Over 100 hospitals have refused to implement the Bush administration’s recommendations to vaccinate health care workers. They cite concerns over lost days due to vaccine side effects in their already understaffed facilities, and concern about the spread of vaccinia from those recently vaccinated to patients in the hospital for whom a vaccinia infection could be fatal. Unions have refused to allow their members to be vaccinated because of the administration’s prior reluctance to offer any compensation to those suffering from vaccine side effects.
In response to financial concerns from health workers and their unions, the administration has finally proposed a limited compensation to those injured by the vaccine, $262,100 for death or permanent disability and up to $50,000 for lost wages. However, workers would be responsible for the first five days of disability under this proposal. The American Nurses Association, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union have said this compensation package is still inadequate.
Why is the Bush administration so adamant that health workers and emergency personnel get the smallpox vaccine? Is it their bullheaded pursuit of war? What is the actual threat?
What is the likelihood of terrorists using smallpox as a biological weapon? Terrorists are not stupid. They have managed to manufacture and distribute a deadly anthrax attack through the mail system. They coordinated the biggest terrorist attack in history on the World Trade Center. Is smallpox a weapon that terrorists would actually use? They certainly have access to weaponized smallpox virus. That is not the question. They also have access to genetically engineered smallpox designed to be deadly and overwhelm the vaccine. Scientists can easily construct a mousepox virus that kills mice immune to mousepox. The question is why would terrorists, deranged as they may be, unleash a virus that is guaranteed to kill their families and comrades? Especially when they have a perfectly serviceable terrorist weapon in anthrax that is not contagious and kills only those individuals it targets?
A terrorist attack with smallpox is extremely unlikely. That is what the health care industry has decided, despite the President’s dire warnings. Doctors and nurses have decided they are not willing to risk their own lives and the lives of their patients by taking the smallpox vaccine meant to prevent an epidemic that is unlikely to occur.
For other articles about smallpox see: Smallpox Vaccine and Smallpox Vaccine: Does it Work?