WASHINGTON – President Bush received a smallpox vaccination Saturday, fulfilling a promise he made when he ordered inoculations for about a half-million U.S. troops.
He showed no immediate ill effects from the vaccine, which can sicken and in rare cases kill those who get it. An hour after being inoculated in his left arm, Bush was carrying his dog in that arm as the president walked to his helicopter and left for Camp David.
Bush had announced on Dec. 13 that the vaccine would be mandatory for those forces in "high-risk" parts of the world.
"As commander in chief, I do not believe I can ask others to accept this risk unless I am willing to do the same," Bush said then.
Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, but with war in Iraq a growing possibility, the president said the United States was evaluating "old threats in a new light" after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bush, 56, received the inoculation at 12:15 p.m. EST at the White House, before departing for the president retreat in Maryland.
It was administered in the White House's medical unit by a senior immunization technician from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, with White House physician Richard Tubb looking on, White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said.
"He feels fine and there are no side effects," she said. Bush smiled and waved at well-wishers as he walked across the South Lawn and departed for a long weekend at Camp David.
He will be there for five days, accompanied by a doctor who can monitor him for side effects.
Experts estimate that 15 out of every 1 million people vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening complications, and one or two will die. Reactions are less common for those being revaccinated.
Typical side effects from the vaccine, which is made with a live virus, include sore arms, fever and swollen glands. In an experimental trial under way in Nashville, Tenn., about 10 percent of people experienced extreme discomfort, with fatigue, fever, loss of appetite and other flu-like symptoms that lasted a day or two.
The most common serious reaction comes when vaccinia escapes from the inoculation site, often because people touch the site and then touch themselves or someone else. The virus transferred to the eye can cause blindness.
The military inoculated more than 150 people in the past week against smallpox, but about 100 others were exempted because of medical complications, officials reported Thursday.
The vaccine will be made available to civilian health care workers who would come in contact with the first victims of a biological attack. Experts say that group numbers about 450,000.
After weeks of debate, Bush decided against a nationwide campaign to educate -- and eventually inoculate -- the entire country, though that step could come later.
For most people, the risk of bioterrorism does not warrant vaccinations, he said, adding that neither his family nor his staff would receive it.
Routine smallpox vaccinations ended in the United States in 1972, meaning nearly half the population is without any protection from the virus.
Health officials are not sure whether those vaccinated decades ago are still protected from the disease.
Like others in his age group, Bush had a smallpox vaccination as a child, a spokeswoman said. Officials are not sure how much protection remains for adults who were vaccinated as children.