Smallpox promises profit for some
By Joe Baker, Senior Editor
For many years, we have been told that the smallpox vaccine provides immunity from that killer disease. All we needed, the medical profession said, was to get this vaccine and we would be safe.
Now, according to The Straits Times, an Asian publication, a team of European researchers has developed a test-to do what?-determine if a person who has been vaccinated against the disease actually develops immunity.
The test was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The publication reported scientists in Germany and France have produced a test that can determine if a candidate smallpox vaccine can prompt protection against the disease in humans.
What goes on here? If the smallpox vaccine is effective, why do we need such a test?
Dr. Bernard Moss of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, said this research is important because no scientist has ever identified in the human immune system the types of responses needed to protect against smallpox.
Dr. Moss said detailed study and understanding of the human immune system did not develop until the 1980s, long after interest in smallpox had waned.
He said the new test could tell whether persons vaccinated against smallpox really do develop the immune system cells needed to protect against the disease.
Apparently, the original vaccine never underwent any kind of clinical trials, and no scientific proof was ever produced that it works. The original vaccine was created by an Englishman, Edward Jenner. Jenner believed administration of cowpox virus would protect against the smallpox virus. In fact, he claimed cowpox was smallpox in cows.
It is not, and the two distinctly different diseases are caused by completely different organisms. Even in Jenners day, his colleagues claimed that smallpox was halted by improved sanitation and better nutrition, not by cowpox, but they were ignored. Modern medicine admits Jenners vaccine would not meet todays requirements.
Dr. Paul Offit, one of the top infectious disease specialists in the country, stated: We tend to think of vaccines as being very safe and very effective, which they are. But all the vaccines that we use today are the result of modern technology. Thats not true of the smallpox vaccine. It has a side effect profile that we … we would not accept for vaccines today.
Many present-day practitioners say the live virus vaccine being employed in the present day is dangerous and must be carefully managed when it is used. That is why researchers are developing newer and safer smallpox vaccines. The new test will be able to tell whether they are effective before they are widely used.
Smallpox vaccine is being pushed by the three major makers of the vaccine. They are: Aventis in France, Acambis in England and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in this country. They stand to collect more than $800 million to supply the U.S. program alone.
Acambis is based in Cambridge, England and in Cambridge, Mass. On its Web site the company comments: In November 2001, we were awarded a major contract by the U.S. government to provide 155 million doses of smallpox vaccine for the purposes of countering the threat of bioterrorism.
The company said that contract came after an initial award in September 2000 which covered development of a new smallpox vaccine and production of 40 million doses over 20 years. In October 2001, that was expanded to 54 million doses in 2002. The result, the company said, is that it is making 209 million doses for the Bush administration.
Acambis also has a partnership with Aventis Pasteur in the production of some different vaccines for other diseases.
Alan Smith is chairman of the board and Dr. John Brown is CEO.
Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is located in Collegeville, Pennsylvania It has global operations consisting of 49 manufacturing plants in 27 global locations and exports to 60 additional countries. Robert Essner is chairman of the board and also serves as president and CEO. Louis L. Hoynes is executive vice-president and general counsel.
In 2001, Essner was paid a total of $34,663,218 in salary, bonus, stock options and other payouts.
Aventis Pasteur is a world leader in the production of vaccines and immunology and makes more than one billion doses of vaccines annually. It has operations in every country and is headquartered in Lyon, France. David Williams is the chairman, president and CEO.
Aventis works with several U.S. drug firms and has a special partnership with Merck & Co.
Obviously, there is big money in vaccines. Not only drug company executives, but politicians stand to benefit from the smallpox program. Links with the Bush administration are prevalent. One member of the presidents Advisory Council on Homeland Security is Sidney Taurel, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals.
George Bush Sr. formerly served on Lillys board of directors, and Mitch Daniels, who used to head Lillys North American operations, is the White House budget director.
Sen. John McCain recently told Bill Moyers on national television: …let me remind you, recent data shows that the pharmaceutical companies who are the largest single contributors, they spent about $30 million in the last campaign insulating incumbents from a tax for not having passed prescription drug bills for seniors.
Last November, the Bush administration asked a federal court to seal all documents relating to vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative implicated in thousands of cases of autism in children.
The administrations Homeland Security Act contains a provision which bars victims of these and other vaccines from suing the vaccine makers. Rep. Richard Armey claimed credit for that, but the legislation actually was drafted by Sen. William Frist, the new majority leader of the Senate.