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Smallpox Jabs for 11 Million Americans

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Smallpox jabs for 11m Americans

Julian Borger in Washington, Rory McCarthy in Baghdad and Oliver Burkeman in New York

Friday December 13, 2002

The Guardian

The White House will announce today the start of a programme to vaccinate up to 11 million Americans against smallpox as part of the next stage of the US "war on terror" and the threat of biological and chemical weapons.

Under George Bush's plan, 500,000 soldiers will be vaccinated immediately. The defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said he had given the order for the process to begin.

The first troops vaccinated will be those already deployed in the Persian Gulf and combat troops likely to be sent into a battle with Iraq.

Another 500,000 hospital and medical emergency workers will be given the jabs in the new year. Eventually the programme will cover 10 million public employees, including police and firefighters. President Bush will also allow members of the public to choose whether they want the vaccine, although it is unlikely to be available in sufficient quantities before 2004.

"I think it ought to be a voluntary plan," he said in a television interview. "What's going to be very important is for us to make sure that there's ample information for people to make a wise decision."

The administration has been agonising over the question of smallpox jabs since the September 11 attacks made it clear that the country was facing threats to its security on a new scale. But with the looming prospect of a war with Iraq, one of only a handful of countries thought to have cultivated the smallpox virus in its laboratories, the decision was made in recent weeks to go ahead despite the risks.

The vaccine, which uses a live virus closely related to smallpox, kills one or two people in every million vaccinated, and triggers serious health problems in another 13 or 14.

Smallpox was eradicated worldwide by 1980, and the to begin.

The first troops vaccinated will be those already deployed in the Persian Gulf and combat troops likely to be sent into a battle with Iraq.

Another 500,000 hospital and medical emergency workers will be given the jabs in the new year. Eventually the programme will cover 10 million public employees, including police and firefighters. President Bush will also allow members of the public to choose whether they want the vaccine, although it is unlikely to be available in sufficient quantities before 2004.

"I think it ought to be a voluntary plan," he said in a television interview. "What's going to be very important is for us to make sure that there's ample information for people to make a wise decision."

The administration has been agonising over the question of smallpox jabs since the September 11 attacks made it clear that the country was facing threats to its security on a new scale. But with the looming prospect of a war with Iraq, one of only a handful of countries thought to have cultivated the smallpox virus in its laboratories, the decision was made in recent weeks to go ahead despite the risks.

The vaccine, which uses a live virus closely related to smallpox, kills one or two people in every million vaccinated, and triggers serious health problems in another 13 or 14.

Smallpox was eradicated worldwide by 1980, and the US stockpiles of vaccine are decades old. Much of it is not authorised for use by the government, but it will be used for the first vaccinations until sufficient quantities of fresh vaccine are available.

The centre for disease control, the government agency that would be responsible for civilian vaccinations, said that US cities had submitted plans for inoculating their key workers earlier this month and that those plans were being evaluated. Its director, Julie Gerberding, said that vaccinations of healthcare workers would start in January.

As public nervousness grew over the prospect of a chemical or biological attack, the White House played down a report in the Washington Post quoting administration sources who alleged that Iraq had supplied VX nerve gas to al-Qaida in the past two months, and that a courier had smuggled it across the Turkish border.

White House officials said yesterday that the allegations were questionable. In Baghdad, Lieutenant-General Hossam Mohammad Amin said the claims were the work of "the enemies of Iraq".

"This is a ridiculous assumption from the American administration," he told reporters last night.

The Bush administration was also put on the defensive yesterday against charges of inconsistency at the UN over its policy on Iraqi sanctions.

Another Washington Post report claimed the US had approved Bag US stockpiles of vaccine are decades old. Much of it is not authorised for use by the government, but it will be used for the first vaccinations until sufficient quantities of fresh vaccine are available.

The centre for disease control, the government agency that would be responsible for civilian vaccinations, said that US cities had submitted plans for inoculating their key workers earlier this month and that those plans were being evaluated. Its director, Julie Gerberding, said that vaccinations of healthcare workers would start in January.

As public nervousness grew over the prospect of a chemical or biological attack, the White House played down a report in the Washington Post quoting administration sources who alleged that Iraq had supplied VX nerve gas to al-Qaida in the past two months, and that a courier had smuggled it across the Turkish border.

White House officials said yesterday that the allegations were questionable. In Baghdad, Lieutenant-General Hossam Mohammad Amin said the claims were the work of "the enemies of Iraq".

"This is a ridiculous assumption from the American administration," he told reporters last night.

The Bush administration was also put on the defensive yesterday against charges of inconsistency at the UN over its policy on Iraqi sanctions.

Another Washington Post report claimed the US had approved Baghdad's importation of millions of doses of a nerve-gas antidote that Washington now wants added to the list of goods Baghdad can be barred from buying.

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i read this ariticle the other day...i was thinking if i would really want to get the vaccine....god forbid that you had a bad reaction and died....could you imaging that....a 25 year old dead because of a bad reaction to this vaccine....

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