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Military Bars Smallpox Vaccine for Some

Apr 5, 2003 | AP

The U.S. military has decided to bar people with strong risks of heart disease from being inoculated against smallpox after three deaths from heart attacks possibly linked to the vaccine.

Following guidelines set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the military will defer vaccinations for people with three or more risk factors for heart disease. Those factors include smoking or using tobacco, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or a heart condition in a close relative before age 50.

About 350,000 military personnel have been vaccinated against smallpox, which the Pentagon has deemed a possible biological warfare threat. U.S. officials have said countries which may have samples or weapons of the deadly disease include Iraq, North Korea and Russia.

One of the three people who died of a heart attack after receiving the vaccine was a 55-year-old member of the National Guard. Health officials aren't certain that the vaccine caused any of the deaths, and military officials note that the Guard member who died five days after being vaccinated had a previous heart condition.

The Pentagon has reported 14 cases of inflammation of the heart muscle or the sac surrounding the heart in people who had been vaccinated. All but one are out of the hospital, and all are expected to have a full recovery, the Pentagon said.

The military said it does not expect to have to defer many vaccinations because so few active-duty troops have heart problems. Between 1998 and 1990, only 150 servicemembers were treated for heart attacks each year, a Pentagon statement said.


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