WASHINGTON (NNS) -- On Dec. 16, the Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted its plan to prepare for and respond to possible smallpox attacks against service members.
The Smallpox Vaccination Program is consistent with Food and Drug Administration guidelines. This program supports the national smallpox preparedness plans announced by President Bush but is tailored to the unique requirements of the armed forces. Like civilian communities, DoD will ensure preparedness by immunizing personnel based on their occupational responsibilities.
The first to receive the vaccine will be smallpox response teams, along with hospital and clinic workers. DoD will then proceed to vaccinate other designated forces having critical mission capabilities. Like other vaccinations, this will be mandated for designated personnel unless they are medically exempt.
"The Department of Defense is establishing a smallpox vaccination program to protect the health and safety of military personnel. Smallpox is a serious infectious disease. We cannot quantify the threat of it being used as a bioweapon; we know the consequences of its use could be great," said William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "Vaccinating service members before an attack is the best way to ensure that our troops are protected, and that they can continue their missions if a smallpox outbreak occurs."
Smallpox is caused by a virus called variola, which spreads from person to person through prolonged close contact. Smallpox can cause a severe rash that can leave permanent scars, high fever, severe headaches or backaches. Smallpox kills about three out of 10 people infected.
In the United States, routine vaccination against smallpox ended around 1972. In May 1980, the World Health Organization declared the global eradication of smallpox as a naturally occurring disease and recommended all countries cease vaccination.
However, military smallpox vaccination programs continued. In 1984, routine military vaccinations were limited to recruits entering basic training. This practice was discontinued in 1990.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent anthrax letters, the Department of Defense reassessed the threat of a smallpox attack.
DoD continues to work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be prepared to protect the nation in the event of a smallpox outbreak.
Further information regarding the Department of Defense smallpox vaccination program can be found at www.vaccines.army.mil/smallpox.asp.