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Smallpox Vaccination Plan 'Ceased'

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Less than a year after President Bush announced a smallpox vaccination plan to protect Americans in the event of a terrorist attack, a fraction of the expected number of health workers have been immunized and the much ballyhooed program is dead in the water.

Federal health officials say they're not ready to declare the program dead, but they readily acknowledge it's ailing.

''The fact is, it's ceased,'' says Ray Strikas of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ''not that anyone's issued an edict to say stop.''

The smallpox vaccination program was a central part of the Bush administration's plan to protect the nation against bioterrorist threats in the aftermath of 9/11.

Strikas, director of smallpox preparedness and response at the CDC's National Immunization Program, delivered a routine update Wednesday on the smallpox program to the CDC's advisory committee on vaccines.

Earlier in the week, he told USA TODAY that the pace of new vaccinations dropped dramatically in April after well-publicized reports of unexpected heart problems associated with the vaccine. At the peak, hundreds of health workers were vaccinated. Now, it's down to ''a few per week.''

States initially told the CDC that they expected to administer 450,000 doses to health workers who would form response teams ready to care for patients infected with the deadly virus. Though the CDC has shipped 291,400 doses, at last count, 38,549 people had been vaccinated.

Even before the heart problems emerged, the plan met early opposition from doctors, nurses and other groups concerned about vaccine risks and issues of liability and compensation. The plan was introduced in December with extensive publicity.

Walter Orenstein, director of the National Immunization Program, says the smallpox program is being folded into a broader effort in which medical workers and labs are preparing to respond to a variety of bioterrorist weapons.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the plan has accomplished what it set out to do. ''We are pleased that the program has inoculated enough first responders and health care workers that could respond should there be an outbreak of smallpox,'' he says.

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