Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University this week announced preliminary study results showing smallpox vaccine protection lasts longer than previously thought. Until now, it was widely accepted that smallpox vaccine protection lasted approximately three to five years. However, early study data shows that significant, partial protection may last many decades after inoculation.
“More than 90 percent of Americans older than 35 have already been vaccinated against smallpox. This translates into about 150 million people who are likely to have at least some level of detectable immunity against this disease,” said Mark Slifka, Ph.D., a researcher at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. Slifka and his colleague Erika Hammarlund presented the initial findings at this week’s meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Washington, D.C.
To conduct their research, Slifka and his colleagues studied blood samples taken from 306 people who had received smallpox vaccinations. These immunizations occurred as recently as one month prior to testing and as long ago as 75 years. Scientists concentrated on two types of immunity in these patients. The first form of immunity is linked to levels of antibody produced in the body in response to the vaccine. These antibodies protect patients by forming the first line of defense against smallpox if an exposure occurs. The second form of immunity is T-cells programmed by the vaccine to attack the smallpox virus.
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