Risks Associated with Smallpox Vaccine

Have you been vaccinated against smallpox? Well, it turns out that allergists are now sounding a nation-wide alarm on the vaccine. They've discovered a possibility that the live-virus smallpox vaccine may pose a risk for individuals taking high-dose corticosteroids, along with those with certain skin disorders - and especially for individuals who are immunosuppressed.

So, why the sudden interest in the interactions between vaccines and allergies, or other immune diseases? Given the current socio-awareness of terrorist attacks, a report by The Joint Task Force on Smallpox Vaccination for Allergists was issued by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). The report looked specifically into the effects of the federal government's pre-event smallpox vaccination program and post-vaccine concerns. This report attempts to weigh the risk of having serious vaccination complications versus the risk of experiencing a potentially fatal smallpox infection post-immunization.

The issue is "vaccinia infection". Apparently, patients with atopic dermatitis (an allergic skin condition), active eczema (a skin disorder that can also be allergy related), or any other type of exfoliative skin condition may be affected. Also of concern are people who are otherwise immunocompromised and/or are allergic to a component of the small pox vaccine.

However, complications from the vaccination have to be balanced against the threat of smallpox itself. Smallpox has a 30-percent mortality rate, but the implications of severe vaccine reaction are also extremely serious.

Even if you're a healthy person, you'll need to consider your family members. If you get vaccinated for small pox, you could pose a potential risk to the people around you. According to the report, the virus can be transmitted to anyone you have intimate contact with (such as family members), when there's prolonged face-to-face contact. The risk is particularly high if these "intimate contacts" are immunocompromised (have weak immune systems) or are allergic to any part of the small pox vaccine.

The report states that potential vaccine recipients shouldn't be immunized if they, their spouses, their children and/or other household member suffer from a diminished immunity.

News Release, January 21, 2005
Source: American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (ACAAI)

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