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The Ghost of Smallpox Past

Despite its being dead for 25 Years, the specter of a smallpox pestilence -- via terrorism -- haunts the public.

Dangerous But Not Easy to Get continued...

About 15 in every million people vaccinated will have a life-threatening reaction, estimates William J Bicknell, MD, MPH, founder of the Boston University School of Public Health and former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. He notes that the difference between life and death for many people will be the availability of vaccinia immune globulin or VIG. This is a preparation containing vaccine-virus-fighting antibodies from recently vaccinated donors.

"The decision people have to make is, 'Do I think after September 11 that there is a big enough risk of a bioterrorist having smallpox and getting it to this country that I want to protect myself and my family?'" Bicknell tells WebMD. "If the answer is yes, you lobby for vaccine access and get immunized, but you make sure [your immune system is not suppressed] or [you don't] have HIV, that you are not an infant, that you are not a person with a skin rash. Then -- if a supply of VIG is available -- you decide OK, I'll get the vaccination. I'll have a sore arm, maybe a swollen arm, but I am quite willing to accept a one-in-a-million or less chance of death. ... It is the risk people face every day they get in the car and go to work."

Reviewed on December 20, 2002

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