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Release No: 456-03
June 26, 2003

Military Study Shows Safety of Smallpox Vaccination Program

Dr. William Winkenwerder, Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, announced yesterday that research DoD conducted over a six-month period, suggests that a large-scale vaccination program can be carried out safely with few serious adverse events.  “Data from our research are vitally important to the preparedness of the nation.  The ability of the military to conduct this vaccination program safely demonstrates the capability to protect the public at large from the specter of smallpox as a weapon of terrorism,” he said.


John D. Grabenstein, R.Ph., Ph.D., of the Military Vaccine Agency, U.S. Army Medical Command, Falls Church, Va., and Winkenwerder analyzed data from the U.S. military smallpox vaccination program from its inception on Dec. 13, 2002, through May 28, 2003.


Grabenstein and Winkenwerder looked at the number of vaccinations, rates of vaccination exemptions, symptoms and adverse events.  Data were collected via reports to medical facilities on multiple continents and ships at sea.  In 5 1/2 months, DoD administered 450,293 smallpox vaccinations.   Most adverse events occurred at rates below historical rates.  In two settings, .5 percent and 3 percent of vaccine recipients needed short-term sick leave.


            The military vaccination program ensures military preparedness against use of smallpox as a biological weapon, and ensures that troops can continue their missions.  Resumption of smallpox vaccinations nevertheless has raised important questions regarding implementation and safety.


More information on the study can be found in the Journal of the American Medical Association June 25th issue.

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