For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2002
Fact Sheet: Protecting Americans: Smallpox Vaccination Program
December 13, 2002
PROTECTING AMERICANS: SMALLPOX VACCINATION PROGRAM
Today, the President announced a plan to better protect the
American people against the threat of smallpox attack by hostile groups
Smallpox Response Teams
Under the plan, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
will work with state and local governments to form volunteer
Response Teams who can provide critical services to their fellow
Americans in the event of a smallpox attack.
To ensure that Smallpox Response Teams can mobilize immediately in
emergency, health care workers and other critical personnel will be
asked to volunteer to receive the smallpox vaccine.
The federal government is not recommending vaccination for the
general public at this time. There may be some members of the
general public who insist on being vaccinated now. Our public
agencies will work to accommodate them, but that is not our
recommendation at this time.
Department of Defense and State Department Personnel
The President also announced that the Department of Defense (DOD)
will vaccinate certain military and civilian personnel who are or
be deployed in high threat areas. Some United States personnel
assigned to certain overseas embassies will also be offered
STRENGTHENING HOMELAND SECURITY
Although there is no reason to believe that smallpox presents an
imminent threat, the attacks of September and October, 2001 have
heightened concern that terrorists may have access to the virus and
attempt to use it against the American public. Immediately after these
attacks, HHS began working, in cooperation with state and local
governments, to strengthen our preparedness for bioterror attacks by
expanding the national stockpile of smallpox vaccine. The United
States currently has sufficient quantities of the vaccine to vaccinate
every single person in the country in an emergency.
The smallpox vaccine, which was routinely administered to Americans
until 1972, is a highly effective protection against the disease when
given before or shortly after exposure to the virus. Pre-attack
vaccination of Smallpox Response Teams will allow them, in the event of
a smallpox attack, to immediately administer the vaccine to others and
care for victims.
HHS is working with states to identify health care workers and
first responders to serve on Smallpox Response Teams. Pre-attack
vaccination of these teams Smallpox Response Teams will allow them to
better protect the American public against smallpox attack.
The federal government is not recommending that members of the
general public be vaccinated at this point. Our government has no
information that a biological attack is imminent, and there are
significant side effects and risks associated with the vaccine. HHS is
in the process of establishing an orderly process to make unlicensed
vaccine available to those adult members of the general public without
medical contraindications who insist on being vaccinated either in
2003, with an unlicensed vaccine, or in 2004, with a licensed
vaccine. (A member of the general public may also be eligible to
volunteer for an on-going clinical trial for next generation
PREPARING MILITARY AND OVERSEAS PERSONNEL
The President also announced that DOD will take steps immediately
to reinstitute vaccination of certain military and civilian personnel.
Those personnel who are deployed or who may deploy to certain high
threat areas will be vaccinated. The State Department will also offer
vaccination to certain overseas personnel.
Although the vaccine is effective if administered shortly after
exposure, it may not be feasible during an emergency to vaccinate
overseas troops and civilian personnel. Pre-attack vaccination is
therefore warranted. Vaccination of military personnel was conducted
during WWI and WWII and routinely from the 1940s until 1984. Between
1984 and 1990, vaccinations were provided to many recruits entering
To read more on the disease, visit
To read more on the vaccine, visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/
To read more on medical conditions that make pre-vaccination
unadvisable, visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/vaccination/
Persons interested in participating in an on-going clinical trial
can obtain additional information at www.clinicaltrials.gov.