WASHINGTON -- Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Sunday he does not plan to be inoculated with the smallpox vaccine and recommends that other Cabinet members not request the inoculation either.
"I do not believe it is necessary or should be taking place," he said.
President Bush said Friday he will take the vaccine along with U.S. military forces but was not recommending the risky inoculation for most Americans. The inoculation will be free for those who want it, Thompson said over the weekend.
"The president is doing it because he is the commander in chief, and he believes that if he is ordering his troops ... to get this vaccination, he should do it as well," Thompson told CNN's "Late Edition."
"He also is recommending that elected officials be considered just like the general public, and I have also made the same kind of recommendation to the governors and to health offices who are not going to be in the first line."
Vaccinations for a few dozen military personnel began Friday. By late January states are expected to begin inoculating health care response teams and others who would respond to a smallpox attack.
The government will make the vaccine available to the general public beginning in late spring or early summer, although it is not recommended for most people.
The vaccine carries rare but serious side effects. One or two out of every 1 million patients will be killed by the vaccine, and 15 will face life-threatening complications.
Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s and, while experts fear that terrorists or hostile nations could unleash it in an act of bioterror, Bush says no immediate threat exists.