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Pentagon Plans Smallpox Shots For Up to 500,000

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 722 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... PENTAGON PLANS SMALLPOX SHOTS FOR UP TO 500,000 By
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 12, 2002
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      By Judith Miller and Eric Schmitt
      New York Times
      Saturday, October 12, 2002


      ith the Bush administration moving closer to military action against Iraq,
      the Pentagon is expected to begin vaccinating up to half a million troops
      against smallpox as soon as the vaccine is licensed in mid-November,
      military and administration officials said today.

      The officials said that leading military and civilian advisers to Defense
      Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as well as his top medical experts, had
      recommended that the troops be inoculated.

      The officials, familiar with the prolonged debate over whether to vaccinate
      against the disease ‹ and if so, whom ‹ said Mr. Rumsfeld had not yet
      approved the recommendation. But barring objections from the White House,
      they said, that approval is all but assured. Soldiers would then be
      receiving vaccine that would not yet be available to most civilians, because
      of concerns about potential side effects.

      Of the 1.4 million service members on active duty, 350,000 to 500,000 could
      be immunized under the Pentagon's plan, officials said. Most would be in
      units that might eventually be deployed to the Middle East, though others
      would be inoculated as well.

      "If you're talking about potentially sending troops to areas where they
      could be exposed to smallpox," one senior military official said, "aren't
      you negligent if you don't give them every possible protection?"

      Vice President Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense during the Persian
      Gulf war of 1991, has been a strong advocate of vaccinating the troops,
      administration officials say.

      Like Mr. Cheney, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top civilian
      officials at the Pentagon, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D.
      Wolfowitz, an influential proponent of a change of government in Iraq,
      strongly favor vaccinating soldiers deployed to the Middle East even before
      any case of smallpox is detected, Pentagon aides said today.

      In the past week, Secretary Rumsfeld has also directed aides to help allies,
      including those in the Middle East, acquire the vaccine and so protect
      themselves against smallpox attack, a senior military official said.

      Public health officials said recently that the Pentagon had already asked
      the Department of Health and Human Services, the keeper of American vaccine
      stockpiles, to set aside one million doses for United States military use.

      Should the Pentagon go ahead with the vaccination program, members of the
      military could be in the vanguard of mass smallpox inoculation. Government
      health officials disclosed last week that they favored offering the smallpox
      vaccine to the public even if there has been no bioterror attack, but not
      until as many as 10 million health workers are immunized and a vaccine is
      licensed for general use. They said this would probably not occur before

      The White House is expected to announce soon whether civilians are to be
      vaccinated. Officials said the decision had been difficult for President
      Bush, given the probability that some people would die of the vaccine's side

      The Defense Department recommendation favoring immediate vaccination of
      soldiers who might be deployed to or near the Middle East caps a yearlong
      policy review by the Pentagon.

      The review has focused on assessing the probability that American soldiers
      might be exposed to the virus that causes smallpox, a disease that was
      declared eradicated more than 20 years ago. Historically, smallpox was one
      of mankind's deadliest scourges, killing one-third of those it infected.

      The Defense Department declined to comment today on the status of its
      protracted review. But in interviews this week, Pentagon officials and
      others said military scientists had recommended that soldiers be vaccinated
      against smallpox regardless of what Mr. Bush ultimately decides is
      appropriate for civilians.

      Much of the reasoning at the Defense Department has dealt with the
      presumption that Iraq has secretly kept strains of the virus that it could
      use in a confrontation with the United States.

      There are only two official repositories of the virus: the Centers for
      Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, and the Vector laboratory in
      Novosibirsk, Russia. But intelligence analysts maintain that about a dozen
      countries may be secretly harboring it, among them Iraq.

      Those opposed to vaccinating soldiers before an actual case of smallpox is
      discovered have argued that there is no conclusive proof that Iraq has the
      virus or, even if so, is willing to use it in a bioterror or military

      Those who favor immunization have argued that while scientific data show
      that vaccinations given within four days of exposure to the virus can
      prevent the disease, there are no readily deployable detectors that can
      reliably signal the presence of the virus in an attack on a battlefield or
      in a terrorist strike.

      Scientists said the decision was difficult because the vaccine itself has
      been known to cause life-threatening complications for 15 people of every
      one million who are being vaccinated for the first time.

      Neither troops nor public health workers and other "first responders" will
      be inoculated until the Food and Drug Administration fully licenses the

      Public health officials say the F.D.A. is now expected to license the first
      million doses by the end of the first or second week of November, and
      another million doses by the end of the month.

      "No official in the Pentagon or the civilian sector is going to approve
      immunization prior to the detection of a case of smallpox unless the vaccine
      is fully licensed," a senior administration official said.

      Although the vaccine was given to millions of people throughout the world
      prior to 1972, it has not been administered to civilians since the World
      Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980.


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