US health workers' "no" to smallpox vaccine
by Stan Kurt Health workers have begun to speak out against the Bush administration's plans, announced in early December, to give smallpox vaccinations to 400,000 health workers, along with 500,000 military personnel. Many health experts believe there is no real public health justification for the vaccinations, which carry risk of serious side effects. They see the real aim of the project as spreading fear among people in the US and promoting support for Bush's plan to attack Iraq. Already two major teaching hospitals — Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond — have announced they will not join the program. The largest health workers union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with more than 750,000 members, announced opposition to the way in which the program is being administered without safety guarantees. Smallpox was eradicated over 20 years ago. Not a single case has occurred in the world since that time. Thus many believe the danger of anyone getting smallpox is virtually zero. The only known stocks of smallpox virus are in controlled laboratories in the United States and Russia. The Bush administration has tried to claim that Iraq or "terrorists" may have samples of the virus, but there is absolutely no evidence for this. Other than the US and Russia, few industrialised countries would have the technological capability to turn smallpox viruses into weapons, even if they had virus samples. Although Iraq never had this capability, the administration has timed its vaccination campaign to give the impression that this is a defensive effort tied to a war against Iraq. Bush and the Pentagon claim that just the threat of Iraq having biological weapons is a reason for war. If people realised that Iraq doesn't have these weapons, they would know that the war was just a grab for control of Iraq's oil. The vaccination program is an attempt to convince the people that the administration thinks a smallpox attack by Iraq is possible, even likely. Side effects Smallpox vaccine historically had more serious side effects than any other vaccine, including the rare possibility of death. Military personnel who are forced to take it and health care workers who volunteer will be risking their health just to support pro-war propaganda. Over 50 million people in the US with eczema, HIV/AIDS, cancer, lupus or other immune disorders are at special risk of serious side effects. While people with these conditions will not be given the vaccine directly, anyone who gets the vaccine can spread infection to someone else for up to three weeks. Israel recently started a similar vaccination campaign. Four hospitalisations have already been reported. Of these, two did not get the vaccine themselves. One was an infant child and the other a spouse of an inoculated person. Activist health care workers have launched a campaign of resistance by circulating a pledge for health workers to refuse to either get or give the vaccine. A full description of the resistance appeal and the pledge, along with other relevant information and resources, can be seen on the website www.healthworkers.org. Visitors to the site can add their name by filling out a form online or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Workers World spoke to health professionals involved in the pledge. Hillel Cohen, a doctor of public health, a delegate of 1199-SEIU and an organiser of the resistance effort, said, "Bush wants health workers to risk their health and the health of their patients in order to support his war propaganda. Health workers can and should refuse to participate." "When I discussed the vaccine with my co-workers," said Beverly Hiestand, a registered nurse and chief steward of CWA Local 1168 in Buffalo, NY, "there were questions about the motivation behind the vaccinations. Nurses are concerned that this may be really about promoting the war instead of promoting public health. Many of us will refuse to do it."
* * *Workers' World