President Bush announced Monday that military service members and other federal personnel who work in "high-risk parts of the world" would receive smallpox vaccinations.
Health care workers and emergency responders at other levels of government will also be offered the vaccine. Reports have indicated that 500,000 military members and 500,000 other workers could receive vaccinations.
The president said that the vaccinations "are a precaution only and not a response to any information concerning imminent danger." In previous smallpox vaccinations, about 1,000 people for every 1 million vaccinated experienced reactions that were serious, but not life-threatening. Between 14 and 52 people out of 1 million had potentially life-threatening reactions.
"As commander in chief, I do not believe I can ask others to accept this risk unless I am willing to do the same," Bush said. "Therefore, I will receive the vaccine along with our military."
But federal officials recommended that the general public not receive vaccinations. Bush said members of his family and White House staffers will not be vaccinated. The White House said public health agencies will work to vaccinate Americans who insist on getting the vaccine.
Bush said that the Health and Human Services Department has ensured that adequate supplies of the smallpox vaccine are available in the event the entire U.S. population needs to be vaccinated.
According to the Pentagon's public affairs office, the military has already begun smallpox vaccinations. Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said the process would continue "over the next weeks and months." He said Defense is concentrating initial immunizations of units with "high priority." He said National Guard and Reserve units would be added in the near future.
According to the White House, troops currently designated to receive vaccinations against anthrax also will receive the smallpox vaccine. Additional forces will be vaccinated against smallpox given that smallpox, unlike anthrax, is contagious and can be prevented only with vaccine.
The State Department will offer vaccination against both anthrax and smallpox to personnel at certain overseas posts on a voluntary basis.