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Smallpox Vaccine
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Smallpox Vaccine Overview

Written by FoundHealth.

U.S. Brand Names


What Is Smallpox?

Smallpox is a disease caused by a virus. At one time, it was one of the world’s most feared infections. Smallpox has no treatment or cure. It can be fatal. Because of a worldwide vaccination effort, smallpox is virtually nonexistent. The last case in the US was in 1949. Because there have been no cases of smallpox reported anywhere, the vaccine is no longer given.

Because of bioterrorism threats, it’s important to remember the facts about smallpox.

Smallpox can be spread from person to person by direct, face-to-face contact. It can also be spread through bodily fluids or linens and clothing that have been contaminated. Smallpox can be spread through the air, although this is rare.

The primary symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting

As the virus progresses, a red rash appears on the tongue and in the mouth. The rash then spreads. Spots begin to break open. The rash spreads across the body. It turns from red spots into raised bumps. By day four, the bumps fill with fluid and have a depression in the middle. Scabs form over all of the bumps.

Pharmacologic Category

Vaccine, Live (Viral)

What Is the Smallpox Vaccine?

The smallpox vaccine contains a live virus, called the vaccinia virus. This is related to smallpox. The vaccine is given as a shot.

CDC Information

Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) are developed by the staff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each VIS provides information to properly inform the adult vaccinee or, in the case of a minor, the child's parent or legal representative about the risks and benefits of each vaccine. Before a healthcare provider vaccinates a child or an adult with a dose of DTaP, Td, MMR, varicella, polio, Hib, hepatitis B, or pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, the provider is required by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act to provide a copy of the VIS. VISs are available for other vaccines and may be used to educate patients. Foreign language versions are also available.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

If you have come in contact with the virus or at risk, you should get the vaccine. The vaccine is not given to the general public. If you are in the military and work in high-threat areas, you will get the vaccine.

Created: 2005-04-07 17:18:23.0

Modified: 2010-03-09 08:27:29.0

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What Are the Risks Associated With the Smallpox Vaccine?

Because a live virus is injected into the skin, it is possible to spread it to other areas of the body, or even to other people. The injection site must be protected to prevent this from happening.

Common side effects of smallpox vaccine include:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Soreness in the arm

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

The following individuals should not get vaccinated:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Children less than 12 months old
  • People who have had a previous allergic reaction to the vaccine or any of its components
  • People with eczema or who have had a history of eczema or other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis
  • People with skin conditions, such as burns , chickenpox , shingles , impetigo , herpes , severe acne , or psoriasis —wait until healed before getting the vaccine
  • People with heart disease, heart conditions, multiple risk factors for heart disease, or stroke -like symptoms
  • People with weakened immune systems (eg, those who have received a transplant, have HIV , are receiving cancer treatment, or are taking medicines that suppress the immune system, including steroids)

Talk to your doctor to find out if the vaccine is safe for you.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

If an outbreak happens, the US has a large supply of the smallpox vaccine to vaccinate the entire population.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Department of Health & Human Services


People who should not get the smallpox vaccine. US Department of Health & Human Services website. Available at: . Accessed June 13, 2007.

Smallpox. World Health Organization website. Available at: . Accessed February 6, 2007.

The White House website. Available at: . Accessed February 6, 2007.



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