Key U.S. Scientist Pushes to Hang Onto Last Remaining Smallpox Virus

A health worker vaccinates a child against smallpox, circa 1962, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A U.S. scientist is advising against destroying the world's final known stocks of smallpox, which was eradicated from nature in the 1970s.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
May 2, 2014, 4:01 a.m.

A U.S. sci­ent­ist has ad­vised against elim­in­at­ing the world’s last known stocks of small­pox, just weeks be­fore na­tions are set to re­con­sider de­struc­tion.

“The re­search agenda with live [small­pox] vir­us is not yet fin­ished,” In­ger Da­mon, who over­sees stud­ies of the agent at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion in At­lanta, said in a newly pub­lished art­icle co-au­thored with two oth­er sci­ent­ists.

Da­mon, who heads the agency’s Poxvir­us and Ra­bies Branch, and her col­leagues ar­gue that re­lated agents can­not al­ways sub­sti­tute for live small­pox vir­us in lab ex­per­i­ments to quickly de­tect and con­tain the his­tor­ic­al scourge, should it re-emerge.

A glob­al erad­ic­a­tion cam­paign wiped out small­pox from nature in the 1970s. However, the United States and oth­er coun­tries have spent dec­ades de­vel­op­ing new vac­cines and drugs in case the agent is re­leased from a secret stock­pile, or as­sembled from scratch us­ing emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies.

In an in­ter­view with Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, Da­mon ad­vised that state par­ti­cipants in the World Health As­sembly — the top de­lib­er­at­ive body of the World Health Or­gan­iz­a­tion — again delay set­ting any dead­line for des­troy­ing the fi­nal known sup­plies of small­pox vir­us. The re­main­ing caches are held at CDC headquar­ters and at a state labor­at­ory in Rus­sia.

“We can’t pre­dict what the res­ults of the next “¦ ex­per­i­ments are go­ing to be,” she said by tele­phone on Wed­nes­day. “If we could do that, we could give a dis­tinct and a defin­it­ive [de­struc­tion] timeline.”

Her art­icle — writ­ten jointly with Clarissa Dam­aso of Brazil’s Fed­er­al Uni­versity of Rio de Janeiro and Grant Mc­Fad­den of the Uni­versity of Flor­ida — makes the case that fur­ther re­search with live vir­us is “vi­tal” to de­vel­op­ing safer vac­cines, fully li­censed drugs, and faster de­tec­tion strategies.

Speak­ing to GSN, Da­mon said the art­icle does not in­dic­ate what po­s­i­tion the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will take at the World Health As­sembly’s May 19-24 meet­ing.

She ex­pressed hope, though, that her piece “will be im­port­ant in in­form­ing the of­fi­cial U.S. stance.”

Rus­sia and the United States suc­cess­fully pushed in 2011 to delay any con­sid­er­a­tion of a de­struc­tion dead­line un­til this year. That ex­ten­ded a series of post­pone­ments ever since a WHO ad­vis­ory com­mit­tee in 1990 re­com­men­ded des­troy­ing the re­main­ing vir­us.

Ad­visers to the glob­al health agency reached gen­er­al agree­ment in Septem­ber that live vir­us stocks “need no longer be re­tained for fur­ther es­sen­tial re­search.” Its con­clu­sions were echoed two months later by an in­de­pend­ent pan­el of ex­perts con­vened to ex­am­ine re­cent de­vel­op­ments in small­pox stud­ies.

Speak­ing to GSN on Tues­day, epi­demi­olo­gist Don­ald Hende­r­son ar­gued in fa­vor of des­troy­ing the re­main­ing vir­us stocks. He re­com­men­ded fo­cus­ing on en­sur­ing ad­equate in­ter­na­tion­al sup­plies of older, less ex­pens­ive vac­cine in­stead of pur­su­ing fur­ther re­search with live vir­us.

“We’ve had a couple of stabs at try­ing to de­vel­op these products as called for by the [United States] way back when, and it hasn’t worked,” said Hende­r­son, who headed the World Health Or­gan­iz­a­tion’s glob­al small­pox erad­ic­a­tion pro­gram in the 1960s and 1970s.

“If it comes to a ma­jor­ity vote in the World Health As­sembly, which it’s al­most come to sev­er­al times, I think the over­whelm­ing de­sire will be to des­troy,” Hende­r­son said.

Hende­r­son and Isao Ar­ita, an­oth­er former lead­er of the WHO small­pox erad­ic­a­tion ef­fort, wrote in an April journ­al art­icle that “lo­gic dic­tates an early date” for the agent’s de­struc­tion.

Re­tain­ing the stock­piles in­def­in­itely, Hende­r­son told GSN, could con­trib­ute to in­ter­na­tion­al sus­pi­cion that Wash­ing­ton and Mo­scow want the vir­us as a “de­terrent” that they may choose to weapon­ize.

The vir­us ori­gin­ated early in hu­man his­tory, and is be­lieved to have killed 300 mil­lion people between 1900 and its elim­in­a­tion from the en­vir­on­ment.

What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
2 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×