President Bush is ordering members of the U.S. military serving in dangerous parts of the world to be inoculated against smallpox, warning that hostile nations or groups could use the virus as a weapon of terror. Mr. Bush said he will be among those taking the vaccine, which will also be offered to health care workers.
The president says the government has no information that a smallpox attack is imminent. "Yet, it is prudent to prepare for the possibility that terrorists who kill indiscriminately would use diseases as a weapon," said President Bush.
Still, the White House is not judging the threat to be severe enough to warrant administering the vaccine to all Americans at this time. The vaccine has been known to cause severe side effects and even death in a very small number of cases. "I'm ordering that the military and other personnel who serve America in high-risk parts of the world receive the smallpox vaccine," he said. "As commander-in-chief, I do not believe I can ask others to accept this risk, unless I am willing to do the same. Therefore, I will receive the vaccine along with our military."
The government has now stockpiled enough of the smallpox vaccine to inoculate the entire population - several hundred million Americans - in the event of a smallpox attack.