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March 29, 2002

Smallpox Vaccine

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has released the results of a clinical trial that compared full-strength smallpox vaccine with vaccine that was diluted five-fold and ten-fold. The results, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that 97 percent of the study participants received a blister that indicates the vaccine’s effectiveness.

In addition, Aventis Pasteur Inc., a Pennsylvania pharmaceutical company, told the Associated Press it will donate 85 million doses of smallpox vaccine recently discovered in the company’s freezers. The Department of Health and Human Services says if the Aventis vaccine is proven to be safe and reliable, it will be added to the nation’s stockpile and will ensure an adequate supply in the event of a smallpox attack.

News of the expanded smallpox vaccine supply raises the debate of whether to offer vaccine now or continue to save it. The issue was discussed in a recent Baltimore Sun article.

Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS, Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Sun he disagreed with the idea of vaccination now, because of the potentially deadly side effects from the vaccine and the slim chances of a smallpox attack. Dean Sommer said he supports the development of detailed plans for responding to an attack and placing vaccine supplies in every city.