Are Heart Disease and the Smallpox Vaccine a Bad Mix?

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Dr. Bassam R. Baroudi
Coast Heart Institute, PLLC
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Health officials are looking into an unexpected increased risk that could eliminate thousands from taking the Smallpox vaccine in the event of a bio-terrorist attack. Apparently, a Maryland woman suffered a heart attack and six others reported heart related problems after taking the vaccine, so the CDC is advising that people with heart disease should not take the vaccine until they can look into this further.

The researchers say they're hoping this was just a coincidence since all those who suffered heart trouble after the vaccine had other risk factors like obesity or diabetes. But there is a concern that most of the Smallpox vaccine studies focused on children who were routinely given the shot years ago, and most kids don't have heart disease.

"Now, we're immunizing people in their 50's or other ages, and will they have a different reaction to the vaccine than very young people age five or six, that's yet to be sorted out," said Dr. Bill Roper, former CDC director.

The government had hoped to have vaccinated more than 400,000 healthcare workers and First Responders by now, but less than 25,000 have been immunized. And the CDC is worried that this news could slow things even more, so they hope to have an investigation into the heart disease link completed very soon.

Dr. Roper is a former director and a current advisor to the Centers for Disease Control and stresses that the heart disease link has not yet been confirmed. However, if the death is linked to the vaccine, it would be the first associated with either the Civilian Vaccination Program that began two months ago or the military program launched in December.

Under the new, temporary guidelines, people who have been diagnosed with serious heart disease such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, previous heart attack, and angina are being told not to get the vaccine. Heart disease is a major problem in this country, and many people have risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes and don't know it.

Dr. Roper says healthcare workers scheduled to have the vaccine who are worried about their risk should go over their heart disease risk profile with their doctor. CDC officials say they expect the new heart guidelines to eliminate fewer than 10% of potential vaccine candidates. When administered in the past, the vaccine killed between one to two out of every one million people inoculated and caused others to suffer brain damage, but it has never before been linked to heart problems.