on Smallpox Vaccination
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
December 13, 2002
2:12 P.M. EST
Good afternoon. Since our country was attacked 15 months ago, Americans have
been forced to prepare for a variety of threats we hope will never come. We
have stepped up security at our ports and borders, we've expanded our ability
to detect chemical and biological threats, we've increased support for first
responders, we made public -- made our public health care system better able
to track and treat disease. By preparing at home and by pursuing enemies abroad,
we're adding to the security of our nation. I thank the members of my team who
are here who are adding to the security of our nation.
One potential danger to America is the use of the smallpox virus as a weapon
of terror. Smallpox is a deadly but preventable disease. Most Americans who
are 34 or older had a smallpox vaccination when they were children. By 1972,
the risk of smallpox was so remote that routine vaccinations were discontinued
in the United States. In 1980, the World Health Organization declared that smallpox
had been completely irradiated and, since then, there has not been a single
natural case of the disease anywhere in the world.
We know, however, that the smallpox virus still exists in laboratories, and
we believe that regimes hostile to the United States may possess this dangerous
virus. To protect our citizens in the aftermath of September the 11th, we are
evaluating old threats in a new light. Our government has no information that
a smallpox attack is imminent. Yet it is prudent to prepare for the possibility
that terrorists would kill indiscriminately -- who kill indiscriminately would
use diseases as a weapon.
Our public health agencies began preparations more than a year ago. Today, through
the hard work of our Department of Health and Human Services, ably led by Tommy
Thompson, and state and local officials, America has stockpiled enough vaccine,
and is now prepared to inoculate our entire population in the event of a smallpox
attack. Americans and anyone who would think of harming Americans can be certain
that this nation is ready to respond quickly and effectively to a smallpox emergency
or an increase in the level of threat.
Today I am directing additional steps to protect the health of our nation. I'm
ordering that the military and other personnel who serve America in high-risk
parts of the world receive the smallpox vaccine, men and women who could be
on the front lines of a biological attack must be protected.
This particular vaccine does involve a small risk of serious health considerations.
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.
These vaccinations are a precaution only and not a response to any information
concerning imminent danger. Given the current level of threat and the inherent
health risks of the vaccine, we have decided not to initiate a broader vaccination
program for all Americans at this time. Neither my family nor my staff will
be receiving the vaccine, because our health and national security experts do
not believe vaccination is necessary for the general public.
At present, the responsible course is to make careful and thorough preparations
in case a broader vaccination program should become necessary in the future.
There may be some citizens, however, who insist on being vaccinated now. The
public health agencies will work to accommodate them. But that is not our recommendation
at this time.
We do recommend vaccinations for one other group of Americans that could be
on the front lines of a biological attack. We will make the vaccine available
on a voluntary basis to medical professionals and emergency personnel and response
teams that would be the first on the scene in a smallpox emergency. These teams
would immediately provide vaccine and treatment to Americans in a crisis and,
to do this job effectively, members of these teams should be protected against
I understand that many first responders will have questions before deciding
whether to be vaccinated. We will make sure they have the medical advice they
need to make an informed decision. Smallpox is a serious disease and we know
that our enemies are trying to inflict serious harm. Yet there's no evidence
that smallpox imminently threatens this country.
We will continue taking every essential step to guard against the threats to
our nation and I deeply appreciate the good efforts of state and local health
officials who are facing difficult challenges with great skill. The actions
we are taking together will help safeguard the health of our people in a measured
and responsible way.