BY KARA DEBOER
For the Daily
Published May 19, 2002
The May 16 episode of the television program "E.R." showed what could happen if smallpox were to strike America: mass panic and a rush for vaccinations.
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The events in the show illustrate the concern shared by doctors and researchers around the nation and at the University who are investigating the issue of smallpox and possible courses of vaccination if an attack occured.
"With what the (Center for Disease Control) has now, based on diluting existing vaccines stockpiled to about 70 million doses and donations from other vaccine manufacturers of an additional 90 million doses, there would be enough now to pursue a mass vaccination program for all 1 to 29 year olds," said Pediatrics Prof. Matthew Davis.
Since the virus kills more than 30 percent of its victims and is highly communicable, experts said they are concerned smallpox could be the choice weapon for bioterrorists. Americans under age 30 face the highest risk of contracting the disease because the last routine vaccinations for the virus took place in 1972. Following the events of Sept. 11, the government instituted the "Federal Smallpox Preparedness Plan," which called for a large-scale stockpiling of the vaccine in preparation for a possible immunization campaign. The question of whether to resume routine vaccination depends on a many factors, including the efficacy of each type of vaccination, the potential harm of the vaccine and the likelihood of attack, according to statistics provided by the University Medical Health System.
A recent University study compared the traditional "ring vaccination" technique to a more comprehensive "mass vaccination" technique to determine which could save more lives in the event of a bioterrorist attack.
Ring vaccination isolates smallpox victims and those who have come in close contact with the disease. If this type of vaccination is received within two to four days of contact with the virus, the chances of fatality reduce greatly, Davis said.
The vaccine is more deadly than any other vaccine currently in use. According to the study, a campaign targeting Americans ages 1 to 29 would vaccinate 82.5 million individuals, of which 190 people would die from complications.
"This concern has lead public health officials so far to prefer the ring to the mass vaccination campaign," Davis said. He added that, if an attack were to occur, "our analysis suggests that even taking into account a certain number of deaths, you would end up saving more lives (with the mass vaccination) compared to the ring vaccination alone."
Students may wonder if they should consider requesting a vaccine at their next checkup, but though the CDC is considering the possibility of making the smallpox vaccine widely available, it is not presently available to the general public.
LSA sophomore Kelly Cole said she feels that as long as the likelihood of an attack is unclear, mass vaccination is an unnecessary risk.
"(Mass vaccination) would do more harm than good," Cole said. "If we step up security more, I don't think the mass vaccination is necessary."