Tag Archives: Smallpox

A Pox on Both Your Houses: Should the United States Destroy Its Stockpile of Smallpox Virus?

 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.

courtesy of flickr user hukuzatuna

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)

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Filed under Drug And Device Safety, Health Policy, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Polls, Primary care, Uncategorized

Vaccine Advocate Chronicles the Opposition

Dr. Paul A. Offit‘s new book documents the history of his detractors.  The pediatric infectious disease specialist and vaccine researcher is a vocal vaccine advocate who has become a target for people who believe that vaccines cause autism and other ills in children. His new book, “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens us All,” follows his 2008 book, “Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure” which focused specifically on the autism accusation.

The new book takes a broader historical view of the anti-vaccine movement, going back to the mid-1800’s in England, when some people actually expressed the fear that the bovine-derived smallpox vaccine would turn their children into cows. “If you look at the messaging and the style of those campaigns, it’s almost identical to today,” Dr. Offit told me in an interview, noting that he hopes the book will put the current anti-vaccine movement into perspective for physicians as well as lay readers.

Dr. Paul A. Offit / Photo by Miriam E. Tucker

According to the book, America’s modern-day anti-vaccine movement began on April 19, 1982, with the airing of “DPT: Vaccine Roulette,” a one-hour documentary on Washington, D.C.’s local NBC affiliate WRC-TV. It described children with a variety of mental and physical disabilities that their parents blamed on the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. The book also discusses today’s anti-vaccine crusaders, including celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Bill Maher.

The book is intended to sound an alarm.“The problem with choosing not to vaccinate is not theoretical any more. I think we’re past the tipping point. We’ve had outbreaks of whooping cough, measles, and mumps and even bacterial meningitis that are preventable, because people are choosing not to vaccinate. They’re so scared that they’re more frightened of the vaccine than of the disease…I just think someone has to stand up for these children who are suffering and being hospitalized and dying,” he told me.

Dr. Offit is often attacked on the Internet by people who oppose vaccines, and once received a death threat by email. In June 2006, I was among the attendees at a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices who had to navigate through a crowd of anti-vaccine protestors lining the sidewalk leading to the CDC’s main Atlanta campus. One protestor held a sign labeling Dr. Offit a terrorist. Another yelled at him through a megaphone, calling him the devil.

I asked if he’s worried about a similar reaction to the new book. “I don’t think it will evoke any more anger than I’ve already evoked,” he replied.

Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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