AMA not supporting immediate national smallpox vaccination program

Dec 7, 2001 (CIDRAP News) – The American Medical Association this week declined to support any immediate steps toward vaccinating the whole population against smallpox, but endorsed planning for such a step in case it is needed in the future.

A resolution passed Dec 4 at the AMA's Interim House of Delegates meeting in San Francisco says the group encourages federal health authorities "to evaluate the risks and benefits of pre-exposure vaccination of the US population for smallpox and to continue planning for mass vaccination if determined to be necessary."

The original resolution offered by the Florida delegation called for "the continued development and implementation of an appropriate plan by the United States government to vaccinate the entire population . . . if determined to be necessary, carefully weighing the risks of vaccination versus the benefits." This was amended to the wording above before it was adopted on a voice vote, according to a member of the AMA media relations department.

"Passionate testimony was heard on both sides of the issue of pre-exposure vaccination of the American public for smallpox," says the preliminary report of actions at the meeting, posted on the AMA Web site. "At this time it is prudent to work with the CDC and other groups to evaluate the risks and develop plans and a research agenda regarding the possible use of vaccines," the report states.

Delegates arguing against a national vaccination program cited the CDC's interim smallpox response plan, said the AMA media spokesperson, who asked not to be named. The CDC plan calls for focusing vaccination efforts on potentially exposed people in the event of a smallpox outbreak rather than pursuing mass vaccinations. The plan says adverse reactions to the vaccine could kill about one of every million people vaccinated.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has contracts to buy 209 million doses of smallpox vaccine, which will be added to the existing stockpile of 15.4 million doses.

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