Smallpox vaccine and heart failure?

  1. Has anyone else heard about this? Not necessarily the death, but the possible link between the smallpox vaccine and heart failure.

    Md. Nurse Dies After Inoculation
    CDC Changes Rules For Smallpox Vaccine

    By Ceci Connolly and Avram Goldstein
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Wednesday, March 26, 2003; Page B01

    Federal health officials said last night that they are investigating whether the death of a Maryland hospital worker was related to the smallpox inoculation she received this month.

    Authorities also are investigating a second case in which a recently vaccinated woman, from an unidentified location, suffered a heart attack and is now on life support.

    Historically, the smallpox vaccine has not been associated with heart failure, but officials said several recent heart attacks in people who have been immunized have prompted them to change their vaccination guidelines.

    For now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that any individual with a history of heart trouble not be inoculated, said two individuals who were briefed by the agency, which held an emergency conference call for health commissioners in all 50 states last night.

    The cases come as federal officials struggle to rejuvenate a vaccination program that was intended to serve as a central element of the nation's safeguards against bioterrorism. Only 21,000 medical workers nationwide have responded to President Bush's December call for 500,000 volunteers to be inoculated against smallpox.

    Many doctors and nurses have refused to participate, saying the risk of the vaccine outweighs the threat of a smallpox attack. The vaccine, made from live virus, has been known to cause severe, sometimes fatal, reactions in a small percentage of people inoculated.

    For every 1 million people inoculated in the past, one or two people died and up to 52 suffered severe complications. More common side effects include rash, fever, malaise and in some instances blindness and encephalitis.

    The unidentified Maryland woman was a nurse at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury who volunteered to be vaccinated, according to the hospital's chief executive, R. Alan Newberry.

    Maryland health officials said she was inoculated March 18 and showed no signs of distress. She died Sunday while visiting Arlington County to attend a conference, Newberry said.

    Arlington health officials performed an autopsy.

    "There is nothing that suggests at this point anything other than a normal death," said Arlington County Health Director Susan Allan. Maryland's health secretary, Nelson Sabatini, also said there is no known connection between the woman's vaccination and her death.

    "I feel terrible that a health care worker has died," he said. "My sympathy goes out to the family. Right now, there is no reason to believe there is any causal relationship between the smallpox immunization and her death."

    But the CDC told state health officers it is calling in cardiologists from across the country to help investigate a possible link between the vaccine and heart failure. There have been seven reports of cardiac problems among those vaccinated so far, said CDC Director Julie Gerberding.

    In a teleconference briefing with reporters last night, Gerberding said the administration has no intention of halting the vaccination program.

    "This is still critically important to our preparedness capacity," she said. "The potential for terrorism has probably never been higher."

    The United States halted routine vaccination for smallpox in 1971, and the World Health Organization declared the disease eradicated in 1980.

    2003 The Washington Post Company
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