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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
FLINT FUNDING STILL AT ISSUE
Spending Bill Fails to Clear 60-Vote Hurdle
21 minutes ago
THE LATEST
SURPASSED 80 MILLION VIEWERS
Monday’s Debate Was Most Watched Ever
55 minutes ago
DEBATE UPDATE
‘WASN’T PREPARED’
Hill Republicans Don’t Like What They See in Debate
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"It was obvious he wasn't prepared." “He only mentioned her email scandal once." "I think he took things a little too personal and missed a lot of opportunities to make very good debate points." That's just a smattering of the reactions of some elected Republicans to Donald Trump's debate performance.

Source:
MOST WATCHED EVER?
Little Ratings Drop-Off from Beginning to End of Debate
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

The conventional wisdom is already emerging that Donald Trump opened last night's debate well, but that he faded badly down the stretch. And most viewers apparently witnessed it. "The early Nielsen data confirms that viewership stayed high the entire time. Contrary to some speculation, there was not a big drop-off after the first hour of the 98-minute debate." Final data is still being tallied, but "Monday's face-off may well have been the most-watched debate in American history. CNN and other cable news channels saw big increases over past election years. So did some of the broadcast networks."

Source:
FUNDING RUNS OUT ON FRIDAY
Federal Agencies Prepare for Govt Shutdown
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

As Congress continues to bicker on riders to a continuing resolution, federal agencies have started working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare for a government shutdown, which will occur if no continuing resolution is passed by 11:59 p.m. on Friday night. The OMB held a call with agencies on Sept. 23, one that is required one week before a possible shutdown. The government last shut down for 16 days in 2013, and multiple shutdowns have been narrowly avoided since then. It is expected that Congress will reach a deal before the clock strikes midnight, but until it does, preparations will continue.

Source:
×