Tag: smallpox vaccine scar

Should I Be Worried That My Kids Didn’t Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Routine vaccination with smallpox vaccines ended in the US in 1972, a short time before smallpox was declared eradicated (1980).

Do you have a smallpox vaccine scar?
Do you have a smallpox vaccine scar?

It was also before the last case of wild smallpox was found (1977).

Why?

Because smallpox had been declared eliminated in North America long before (1952), following the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States (1949).

Should I Be Worried That My Kids Didn’t Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Although smallpox has been eradicated, some folks still worry about it.

“There are now only two locations where variola virus is officially stored and handled under WHO supervision: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR Institute) in Koltsovo, Russia.”

CDC on History of Smallpox

Of course, the concern now is not naturally occurring smallpox, but instead bioterrorism.

Could the smallpox virus be made into a weapon to be used in a bioterrorist attack?

We hope not, but if it was, none of us would be immune, not even the folks who were vaccinated long ago. The smallpox vaccine doesn’t provide life-long immunity.

So should you be worried?

“Some people have been vaccinated through the military or because they were part of Smallpox Response Teams that were formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

CDC on Why is Smallpox a Concern?

Almost certainly not.

Plans are in place if there ever was a smallpox attack and if necessary, there is actually enough smallpox vaccine stockpiled to vaccinate everyone in the United States!

More on Smallpox Worries

Recognizing Old Vaccine Scars

Do you have a scar on your arm and you aren’t sure why it is there?

Having a smallpox vaccine scar makes you a part of history.
Having a smallpox vaccine scar makes you a part of history.

Is it from the smallpox vaccine?

Recognizing Old Vaccine Scars

Classically, there are two vaccines that can leave a scar – the ones that protect us against smallpox and tuberculosis.

“BCG scar is a surrogate marker of vaccination and an important index in the vaccination program.”

Dhanawade et al on Scar formation and tuberculin conversion following BCG vaccination in infants: A prospective cohort study

And there are a few easy ways to tell if you have a smallpox scar.

When were you born? Remember, the smallpox vaccine hasn’t been used in the United States since the early 1970s and its use stopped everywhere in 1986.

And where were you born?

The BCG (bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine, on the other hand, is still in use in many countries, and is given at birth to prevent tuberculosis disease, including meningitis and disseminated tuberculosis. It isn’t routinely used in the United States though “because of the low risk of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the variable effectiveness of the vaccine against adult pulmonary TB, and the vaccine’s potential interference with tuberculin skin test reactivity.”

Do you have a vaccine scar on your arm?
Do you have a vaccine scar on your arm? Photo by Earl Hershfield

In general though:

  • the BCG vaccine scar has a raised center
  • the smallpox vaccine scar is depressed, with lines that radiate to the edges

Complicating matters is the fact that you can have multiple scars from each vaccine…

“In 1972, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada recommended that routine immunization of infants for smallpox be stopped. Very few Canadians born after 1972 have been immunized against smallpox. Those, like me, who were immunized prior to that date have little or no immunity left. Nothing, but a small scar as testimony to a grand global achievement.”

Diane Kelsall on A Small Scar

Do you have any vaccine scars?

More on Recognizing Old Vaccine Scars