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Smallpox - Do I need a vaccination?

Gail Carlson, MPH, PhD, Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Columbia


The simple answer is no. The United States Department of Health and Human Services is not recommending that the general public be vaccinated for smallpox at this time. There is no reason to believe that smallpox presents an immediate threat.


Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease. However, it was basically eliminated from the world in the late 1970s. The last know case of smallpox in this country occurred in 1949. Routine vaccinations ended in 1972 because it was no longer necessary for prevention.


Why all the concern about smallpox? Some laboratory stockpiles of the virus do exist, some outside of this country. Events occurring in the fall of 2001 led to increased concern that the variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox, could be used as a biological agent by terrorists.


As a precautionary measure, the U.S. government is taking steps to deal with a possible smallpox outbreak. These are some of the steps being taken.


  • The national stockpile of smallpox vaccine is being expanded. The United States currently has sufficient quantities of the vaccine to vaccinate every person in the country if this becomes necessary. The smallpox vaccine is very effective in preventing smallpox when given before or shortly after exposure to the virus. 
  • Working with state and local governments, health care workers and first responders are being identified and trained to serve on Smallpox Response Teams. Vaccines will be administered in the community where people live and work. 
  • Smallpox Response Team members are being vaccinated against smallpox even though there is not immediate threat. This will allow the teams to immediately administer the vaccine to others and care for victims should there be an attack.


At this time you do not need to be vaccinated for small pox. Your best protection against the threat of smallpox, or any other act of terrorism is to keep yourself informed. Recommendations could change quickly in the event of another terrorist attack. To stay informed about smallpox go to the Missouri Department of Health website - or the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Smallpox Web page -




Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009




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