A third person who received the smallpox vaccine has died of a heart attack, and the Department of Defense joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in temporarily halting inoculation of individuals with a history of cardiac disease. Some states, including Illinois and New York, have suspended all smallpox vaccinations until the CDC distributes screening forms and additional information on the possible relationship between heart problems and the vaccine. The CDC has been investigating whether the fatal heart attacks of two healthcare workers with a history of heart problems were related to having received the vaccine. Today the Pentagon said a 55-year-old National Guardsman who received the vaccine also has died of a heart attack. Heart problems have not previously been associated with the smallpox vaccine, but the CDC said there is some evidence the vaccine played a role in heart inflammation. At least 17 people have developed heart-related conditions after receiving the vaccine, the CDC said.
In a related development, the Institute of Medicine warned the CDC that it is expanding the federal vaccination program too quickly and urged the government to "re-evaluate the costs, risks and goals" of the program. The CDC plans to issue guidelines in mid-April for states to move into the second phase of the program, under which up to 10 million healthcare workers and emergency responders would be vaccinated against smallpox. Under the first phase, 25,645 people have been vaccinated since Jan. 24. Federal health officials had hoped to vaccinate 450,000 people within 60 days of the program's start. Read the IOM report. -- by Julie Piotrowski