Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Pregnancy

Font Size

Study Predicts Impact of Smallpox Attack

Surprise Finding: Mass Vaccination Not Worth it
WebMD Health News

Dec. 19, 2002 -- More than 40,000 people would die if there were a large-scale smallpox bioterror attack on an airport, researchers calculate.

It's a horrible thing to think about. But that worst-case scenario must be considered in the debate over whether it's a good idea to vaccinate everyone against smallpox. What are the real risks from smallpox? That's the focus of several reports in an extraordinary early release from the Jan. 30, 2003, issue of TheNew England Journal of Medicine.

The most provocative of these reports is a calculation of the risks from various smallpox-attack scenarios. Samuel A. Bozzette, MD, PhD, and colleagues at RAND Health Care and the VA San Diego Healthcare System pose a number of "what if" scenarios. These range from an accidental laboratory release to a major bioterror attack on a large airport.

The surprising finding: Even a worst-case scenario doesn't justify mass public vaccination before there is an attack.

"Our study shows that in order for there to be a substantial advantage for mass vaccination of the public, we would need to be facing a significant threat of a very widespread attack," Bozzette tells WebMD. "This is because the conventional methods of containment -- vaccination of contacts and isolation of the ill -- work reasonably well. If we were to vaccinate the public, thousands would become ill and 500 or so people would die."

If only healthcare workers were vaccinated before a large-scale attack, about 43,000 people would die. Prior mass vaccination would cut this to about 13,000 deaths. But the cost of preventing those "what if" deaths would be the 500 very real vaccine-related deaths.

"The main issues are that smallpox isn't an instant killer, and that there is a lot of vaccine on hand," Bozzette tells WebMD. "If there is an attack, there will be time to carry out a widespread vaccination program. This should reassure people."

Despite this reassurance, the calculations show that mass public vaccination after an attack would not do a lot of good. However, the study does show that advance vaccination of healthcare workers is worthwhile. That's because healthcare workers run a much higher risk of infection.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

hand circling date on calendar
Track your most fertile days.
woman looking at ultrasound
Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
The signs to watch out for.
pregnant woman in hospital
Are there ways to do it naturally?
slideshow fetal development
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
What Causes Bipolar
Woman trying on dress in store
pregnant woman
Woman looking at pregnancy test
calendar and baby buggy
dark chocolate squares