Researchers at North Carolina State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Duke University have received a $500,000 federal grant to study why so many people are suffering complications from smallpox vaccine.

The federal government has made the vaccine available to first-responders and military personnel as a defense against a bioterror attack. But the researchers say vaccinations have slowed because so many people are having reactions.

“About 40,000 civilians were vaccinated and some of them came forward complaining of chest pains, shortness of breath and a few other symptoms. Some estimates put the rate as high as 1 in 2,000,” said Dr. Barbara Sherry, professor of virology at NCSU. The side effects are created myocarditis, a viral infection of the heart.
“These numbers only include people who have symptoms. The number of people who experience no symptoms is probably much higher. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” she said in a statement. “No one is surprised that we’re seeing myocarditis, because we’ve seen it before, but everyone is surprised at the number of cases and that it is so clearly associated with vaccination.”

Myocarditis can lead to cardiomyopathy, which causes sever heart failure.

Sherry and Dr. David Pickup of Duke will research DryVax, the vaccine used thus far, and another vaccine called MVA which is not yet being used.

The grant from the National Institutes of Health is for two years.
“If we understood more about why this is happening and if we could design a better vaccine, we could go back to the original plan of vaccinating all these first responders,” Sherry said.