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DoD's Smallpox Immunization Program 'A Real Success'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2003 – DoD's smallpox immunization program for service members "has been a real success," DoD's senior medical official declared.

The department has vaccinated more than 400,000 service members against smallpox since the program began on Dec. 13, 2002. Only 18 troops developed serious complications from the shot, and no deaths have resulted from vaccination, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told Pentagon reporters here April 29.

"We believe the program has been a real success and our experience would support that conclusion," Winkenwerker remarked, noting that DoD's military vaccine office has worked closely with the services' medical departments.

DoD's experience with the vaccine, he said, has been documented in a report submitted to a leading U.S. medical journal slated for eventual publication.

That report, Winkenwerder explained, "will describe adverse event rates that are lower than (those that) have been seen historically."

He pointed out there have been "no deaths" attributable to administering the smallpox vaccine to the military.

Winkenwerder did cite a case where a 55-year-old National Guardsman had died of a heart attack five days after receiving the smallpox vaccine.

However, a review of the guardsman's medical history and a post-mortem examination determined that service member already had "significant heart disease," he noted.

The conclusion, Winkenwerder emphasized, was that the Guardsman's death "was not related to the vaccine."

Statistically, "some proportion" of any given group of people is "going to have a heart attack," he said. And in that group will be people who've received vaccines including smallpox even though their heart attacks are unrelated to the vaccines, he concluded.

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