December 16, 2002

A nurse receives a smallpox inoculation at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. Israel has been explaining to the US the logistics of inoculating health, military and rescue officials against smallpox. (photo: Avi Hayoun)The United States has been receiving ongoing advice from Israeli regarding implementing a smallpox inoculation campaign in the US.

Health officials were in daily contact with their Israeli counterparts prior to President George W. Bush’s announcement last week of plans to inoculate some 1 million military and public health workers against smallpox.

“They [The US] are learning from us how we did this in the past few weeks in all different areas…including in public relations,” Health Ministry spokesman Ido Hadari told AP.

“Both sides are learning from one another. The Americans have a lot more resources and money and therefore we are learning from them how best to do logistics,” He added

In September, Israel began inoculating more than 15,000 health, military and rescue officials against the disease to prepare for the possibility that Iraq will attack with biological weapons in response to a U.S. strike on Baghdad.

After agonizing for months, Bush decided to make the smallpox vaccine available to all Americans, beginning with the military and health workers who would be front-line defenders against a bioterror attack.

Bush announced the program Friday and shots are expected to begin in January, senior administration officials said last week. The shots will be mandatory for about 500,000 military personnel and recommended for another half-million who work in hospital emergency rooms and on special smallpox response teams. The general public will be offered the vaccine on a voluntary basis as soon as large stockpiles are licensed, probably early in 2004, though the government will not encourage people to get them.

During the three month Israeli campaign U.S. officials were in almost daily e-mail contact with their Israeli counterparts, Hadari said. U.S. officials were last in Israel two weeks ago, acquiring hands-on experience, he said.

The campaign included ‘first-responders’ like emergency teams in hospitals, health funds, Magen David Adom, Hessed Shel Emet (victims of terrorism identification squad), firemen, and others. The ministry is preparing information kits for the general public and for professionals trained for dealing with such an emergency.

Hadari said the ministry was also in touch with health ministries around the world about the possibility of those countries immunizing people as well.

During the Israeli campaign, only four people suffered side effects and were briefly hospitalized, Hadari said. Two of those were not inoculated themselves, but came into contact with family members who had received the shot and developed small boils on their hands.

Hadari, one of those inoculated, said doctors put a drop of the vaccine on his upper arm and then, using small needles, pushed it under the first layer of skin. He suffered a little discomfort in his arm and other muscles, he said, but nothing serious.

“It really doesn’t hurt,” Hadari told AP. “I played basketball two days later and went to the beach a few days later.”

Smallpox, once one of the most feared epidemic diseases in the world, killed hundreds of millions of people in past centuries. It was declared eradicated globally in 1980.

Routine smallpox vaccinations ended in the United States in 1972, meaning nearly half the population is without any protection from the virus. Health officials aren’t sure whether those vaccinated decades ago are still protected from the disease.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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