Healthy college students injected with the smallpox vaccine in clinical trials have developed aches, pains and fevers that laid them up for days.
The symptoms have been temporary, but they underscore the dangers of the vaccination strategy under consideration by the Bush administration, experts say.
Unlike other vaccinations, smallpox immunizations involve injections of a live virus called vaccina that can cause flu-like symptoms, rashes, sores and more serious ailments. In extremely rare cases, the vaccine can kill.
“You get swelling, you get tenderness, you can get pain, you may get chills,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
“Getting a smallpox vaccine is not like getting a tetanus shot.”
As the White House considers reintroducing the inoculations 30 years after they were stopped, the National Institutes of Health is sponsoring a study of the smallpox vaccine at Vanderbilt and three other research centers.
Because vaccina supplies are limited, the study is aimed at determining whether a diluted version is still effective.
The vaccination involves 15 pricks in the upper arm with a needle injecting the vaccina virus.
A pus-filled scab develops within a week that must be kept covered to avoid spreading the virus to other body parts – or other people.
The dressings also must be changed daily and the scab monitored carefully.
Study participants said they developed symptoms in about a week, including nausea, fatigue, itchiness and pain where they got the shot.
“At one point I was like, `Just cut it off, just cut my arm off! Be done with it!'” said Elizabeth Forrester, 26, a Vanderbilt doctoral student vaccinated Oct. 14.
“It just hurts, it aches and it’s not fun.”
Forrester missed a day and a half of work a week after being immunized, but others’ symptoms were less severe.
“It was basically like having a really, really mild case of the flu,” said Vanderbilt biochemistry student Matthew Westfall, 31, who ran a low-grade fever for a day.
Karen Cowdery, 24, a University of Iowa cardiology administrator, missed a day of work but said she’d go through it again. “I was nauseous, sick to my stomach, achy,” she said.
Courtesy of the New York Daily News.