One health worker vaccinated against smallpox has died of a heart attack, one is on life support and five others have developed a variety of heart problems, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bar anyone with known heart disease from receiving the vaccine.
The CDC announced late Tuesday that, of the 21,698 health care workers and public health employees vaccinated against smallpox since Jan. 24 as part of national bioterror preparations, three have had heart attacks, two have had chest pain and two have developed inflammation in or around their hearts.
The CDC would not identify the patients by name or location, though it described the three heart attack patients as women in their 50s. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the heart attack patient who died was a Maryland nurse who was vaccinated March 18 and died March 23. It was the first death associated with the smallpox vaccination.
The CDC said the vaccine recipients, all volunteers, had health problems that could have predisposed them to heart attacks.
“We cannot say that what we have observed in these vaccine volunteers is a greater frequency of (heart disease) than what we would expect under other circumstances, but we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of this issue,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC’s director.
In the 1960s, when smallpox vaccination was routine, there were one to three deaths and 14 to 52 serious complications for every 1 million vaccinations given. Almost none of those adverse events, however, were heart problems.
The CDC is consulting with experts to search for a link between the vaccine and heart problems, as well as issuing an alert to those who have already been vaccinated and asking volunteers who know they have heart conditions to step back from participating until more research can be done, Gerberding said.