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May 21, 1982

Hazards of Smallpox Vaccination

Author Affiliations

Center for Prevention Services Centers for Disease Control Atlanta

JAMA. 1982;247(19):2709. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320440057038

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If smallpox were rampant today, and Edward Jenner announced his discovery, he would surely get the Nobel prize. Smallpox was a disease of terrifying inevitability, with a high case-fatality rate. Its social and demographic effects, its role as a major factor determining the outcome of wars, and its interesting predilection for killing kings and queens made it an awesome force in human history. Mankind has reaped incalculable benefits from the vaccinia virus.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to generalize the specific benefits of a good thing. Vitamins have wonderful specific effects; why not take them indiscriminately in massive doses for virtually any reason? Penicillin is great for streptococci; why not give it for viral upper respiratory tract infection? Vaccinia is superb as a preventive for smallpox; surely it must have wonderful properties for other indications. This is faulty reasoning.

As our scientific knowledge increases, we seek scientific justification for these