ST. PAUL -- A Minnesotan who developed heart inflammation after getting the smallpox vaccine is one of several cases that prompted health officials around the country to investigate a possible link between heart problems and the vaccine.
Minnesota Department of Health spokesman Buddy Ferguson said the inflammation was probably caused by an influenza-like illness the woman had a couple of weeks before being vaccinated. Still, the case was reported to the Centers for Disease Control on March 6. The CDC is tracking smallpox vaccine reactions nationally.
The CDC is investigating seven people around the nation who developed heart trouble after getting the vaccine. They include three who suffered heart attacks, including a Maryland woman who died. Two reported angina, or chest pain. Two others reported heart inflammation.
Because of those cases, health officials in Minnesota and nationally are recommending against smallpox vaccinations for people with heart disease and other heart problems.
"CDC is being very conservative about this, so we are also," Ferguson said.
The state is following the CDC recommendation to withhold the vaccine from people with heart problems, but most of the planned vaccinations have already been done, he said. About 1,500 people have already been vaccinated.
Health workers are calling everyone who gets the vaccine three to four weeks later to see if any health problems have developed. Checks are also being done to make sure the vaccine took effect, Ferguson said.
Besides the person with heart inflammation, four other Minnesotans developed rashes after receiving smallpox vaccinations. None became seriously ill.
Also, one woman got pregnant within a few weeks of getting the vaccine, Ferguson said Wednesday. That's sooner than health officials recommend, but chances are slim that the vaccine would cause a health problem, Ferguson said.
The first phase of the vaccinations appears to be winding down. Ferguson said the vaccine will be distributed at just one or two more locations, which he declined to specify for security reasons.
Health officials began the vaccinations with the aim of inoculating 2,700 health care workers by the end of March.
But some volunteers were excluded because of health problems. And health officials now think they may have vaccinated enough people to respond to an outbreak, Ferguson said. He said a final decision hasn't been made on whether to expand the vaccinations to a larger group of health-care workers and first responders. Factors in that decision include the cost of the vaccinations, and the fact that no smallpox attack has happened so far, he said.
"We never had a hard-and-fast numerical target," Ferguson said. "The goal was always to vaccinate a core group of people who would be ready to go into action if there was a bioterrorism event."
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