With the White House moving toward a military attack against Iraq, the Pentagon is expected to start vaccinating up to 500,000 troops against smallpox once the vaccine is licensed in mid-November, a published report said.
Leading military and civilian advisers to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have recommended making the vaccine available to the troops, The New York Times reported in its Saturday editions.
Although Rumsfeld has not yet approved the recommendation, he is expected to do so, the paper said, citing unnamed officials from the military and President George W. Bush's administration.
"If you're talking about potentially sending troops to areas where they could be exposed to smallpox ... aren't you negligent if you don't give them every possible protection?" a senior military official said.
Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz strongly favor inoculating soldiers.
But some experts have opposed such vaccinations before an actual case of smallpox is found since there is no proof that Iraq has the deadly virus or would be willing to unleash it in an attack.
Under the Pentagon's plan 350,000 to 500,000 soldiers would be immunized. The program would aim to vaccinate military units that might eventually be deployed to the Middle East, but others might also be inoculated. There are currently 1.4 million troops on active duty.
President Bush is also expected to make a decision soon about whether civilians will be vaccinated. The president is said to be deliberating since it is possible some people would die from the side effects of the vaccine.
Although the vaccine was given to millions of people throughout the world prior to 1972, it has not been administered to civilians since the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980.