The Guardian January 29, 2003


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 pledge@healthworkers.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."

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Workers' World

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