The situation: A potential standoff between Russia and the U.S., both of whom have stashed smallpox virus to develop emergency countermeasures in the event of biological warfare.
In advance of the World Health Assembly this May, a commentary in a journal called Biosecurity and Bioterrorism (published online ahead of print on January 10, 2011) calls on the United States to get rid of most or all of its stock of smallpox virus.
The author, Jonathan B. Tucker, Ph.D., is a “professor of science and technology for peace and security” at Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany. That’s a title you don’t hear very often.
But Dr. Tucker writes that many public health experts and scientists, especially those in developing countries, would like to destroy any virus stashes, citing the overexaggerated risk of biological warfare and the existence of antiviral drugs that are in development but could be used in a public health emergency under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
Failing an agreement between the U.S. and Russia to clean house and get rid of their smallpox viruses, Dr. Tucker offers some suggestions for compromise, including an agreement by the U.S. and Russia to share their smallpox research with World Health Organization (WHO) member countries and develop a stash of antiviral drugs to be controlled by the WHO for distribution to victims of a smallpox outbreak anywhere in the world. Both countries would then increase their contribution of smallpox vaccines to this WHO reserve.
What do you think? Should we keep some smallpox virus in reserve, or get rid of it?
–Heidi Splete (on twitter @hsplete)