Smallpox shot side effects feared - Study on volunteers finds
pain, flu-like symptoms common
By Robert Bazell
NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT
Dec. 6 — Tia Neeley was among the first volunteers to test the smallpox
vaccine after Sept. 11, 2001. A year ago, NBC News reported on her
inoculation. “My arm got pretty sore for about two days, around seven
to eight days after vaccination,” Neeley said. Hers was a mild reaction,
but for many it was not so easy.
OVER THE past several months, 1,500 volunteers have participated
in a study to test the controversial vaccine’s safety.
Dr. Tom Talbott, who organized one study at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt
University, said scientists also want to find out how much they can
dilute the vaccine and still have it work.
Talbott said everyone who is vaccinated develops a sore on the arm
where it’s injected. About a third experience swelling and redness.
And about 10 percent experience flu-like symptoms.
After receiving a smallpox inoculation, Mark Harris had a fever of
“For a period of about five to six hours, I was in a lot of pain,
delirious from the fever. I had a lot of trouble just moving around,”
Harris said. He even had to skip a few days of school.
Elizabeth Forrester missed work.
“Severe pain. Pain around the site, swelling, and it was just really
kind of uncomfortable and achy,” Forrester said.
It is not unexpected, but doctors testing the smallpox vaccine are
seeing a lot of reactions in the young, healthy volunteers.
“Somewhere around 1 in 10 people end up taking a day or two off from
work or school because they just don’t really feel well,” said Dr.
John Treanor of the University of Rochester.
President Bush is expected to decide soon to inoculate 500,000 troops
and 500,000 health workers. The vaccine trials show that many of them
will be incapacitated temporarily, and experts warn that a handful
will suffer severe side effects — even death.
What you need to know about smallpox
The problem is that the smallpox vaccine, which is more than 200
years old, is different from flu shots and other vaccines used today.
It is made from a live virus, closely related to smallpox, which causes
an infection on the arm.
The doctors conducting the tests say they were initially worried.
“I think it is unusual to us as physicians because we’re not used
to it,” Talbott said.
But with experience, the physicians say they are feeling more comfortable
giving the vaccine. And the volunteers say the risk and discomfort
are worth the chance to help protect the country from a terrifying
Smallpox's rise and fall - Time line of a scourge
British forces in North America distribute tainted blankets to "disaffected
tribes," marking first use of smallpox as an intentional weapon.
Edward Jenner demonstrates that cowpox inoculation can guard against
World Health Organization launches global vaccination campaign against
Smallpox's eradication leads U.S. to discontinue routine vaccination.
Last naturally occurring case of smallpox reported in Somalia.
WHO certifies that the world is free of naturally occurring smallpox.
Soviets begin to develop smallpox as a bioweapon.
Vaccine production is discontinued in the United States.
U.S. military discontinues routine vaccinations.
Smallpox vaccinations are generally limited to selected lab workers
and military personnel.