CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN
Pediatrics Group Says No to Smallpox Vaccines Now
Aired October 8, 2002 - 08:45 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: There's a doctor's group saying the smallpox threat is not real enough to justify vaccinations for children and teenagers.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta to explain why that is the case -- good to see you, Sanjay. What is the case?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. Well, I will tell you. First of all, this is just probably one of the biggest health decisions we've ever had to face as a nation, and nowhere is that more apparent than our youth.
Of course, with smallpox, the virus was eradicated from the world in 1979. The last case, incidentally, in Somalia in 1977. We haven't been vaccinating in this country since '72, and we stopped making the vaccine altogether in '83. That is almost 20 years ago. A couple of important things about this vaccine, and a couple of reasons that it is so controversial.
One is that it is a live vaccine. This is different than some of the -- what are called attenuated vaccines, or not so live vaccines that are much more safe. This vaccine potentially is very dangerous, could even be deadly. We have talked about that before. People say one out of, maybe, every one to two million people could potentially die from this vaccine. So, very controversial, and certainly we're talking about it because of its potential as a bioterror weapon.
Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in perhaps the strongest statement yet about smallpox vaccination, had this to say.
"A major reason not to initiate universal immunization in the absence of actual cases of smallpox, besides the limited availability of the vaccine is the risk of serious complications from immunization."
Three points there. There is no actual smallpox out there right now. There's a limited availability of the vaccine, and perhaps most importantly, there are serious adverse consequences from this vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says instead, do what is called a ring vaccination. Vaccinate people around an infected person should such a case occur. In the meantime, proceed towards more testing of the vaccine in children, and make sure there's enough of a supply. So, that is sort of where they stand right now, very strong statement from them, Bill.
HEMMER: You mentioned that this is a live vaccine. I have to think there are inherent dangers in there for a person, especially for a small child. What are they, and how does the medical community look at that?
GUPTA: There are certainly dangers in a small child.
One thing that I will point out is that a lot of the data that we have, at least on some of the vaccine that is existing today, talks about the inherent dangers towards adults. A lot of the dangers towards kids, we don't know, but one thing pediatricians do agree on is that they could potentially be more severe.
Let's just look at some of the minor potential adverse side effects from the smallpox vaccine, if it were to be given. Fever, weakness, rashes, swelling of the limp nodes as the body reacts to the vaccine, and then, of course, there are other, more serious complications, such as -- death is one, that can occur, as we said, one in a million cases.
Encephalitis, progressive vaccinia, that just means the vaccine spreads throughout the entire body, and eczema vaccinatum, these are these really painful rashes, ugly rashes. Your skin literally sloughs off, Bill. Very, very tragic if that occurs. Generalized rash including hypersensitivity reactions. Very serious potential complications from this vaccine, Bill. A lot of people...
HEMMER: We are almost out of time. How much vaccine is available today? Do we have a handle on that?
GUPTA: They say about 70 to 75 million real doses available. They have 80 million doses that are old. Quite frankly, they are old. They haven't been tested. They can be diluted to provide enough to actually vaccinate about 200 or so million people. There's not quite enough to vaccinate the entire country, but that is the goal right now -- Bill.
HEMMER: Thank you, doctor. Dr. Sanjay Gupta again in today's "House Call."
GUPTA: Good seeing you.
HEMMER: All right. You too.
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