Smallpox vaccine found

July 1, 1993

Smallpox vaccine found

By By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

The nation’s supply of smallpox vaccine has suddenly increased sixfold, according to a report in The Washington Post. A pharmaceutical company discovered 70 million to 90 million doses in its freezers.

This discovery gives the federal government more time as it scrambles to turn out tens of millions of doses of the vaccine. The liquid vaccine was discovered by Aventis Pasteur of Lyon, France. It was made decades ago.

Just why it wasn’t found until now, when it was discovered and by whom, still isn’t clear.

Government sources said the French company is negotiating with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with an eye to giving the U.S. access to the supply. Legal issues must be resolved first.

The find means American companies will have a longer period to develop and refine some of the newer vaccine types now being tested instead of rushing into production with what might prove to be less-than-effective products.

Smallpox was largely eradicated in 1977 as the result of a global vaccination program. Small amounts of the smallpox virus were saved in this country and in Russia.

Some experts were fearful that a tiny amount may have been obtained by terrorists. The possibility that the disease might re-emerge as a terror weapon caused U.S. officials to examine existing stocks of vaccine. They concluded only a little more than 15 million doses were available—about enough to deal with an attack on one major city.

Continuing studies indicate the newly discovered supply is fully potent and, one official said, it is likely it can be diluted up to five times, thus creating more than enough vaccine to handle a major bioterror attack.

Officials stress that that doesn’t mean defense against such an assault would be easy or that deaths would be rare. The vaccine must be given within a few days after exposure. In the case of attacks on many cities, that would be extremely difficult.

Historically, smallpox killed about a third of those infected. In addition, there are risks for some persons to receive the vaccine; those with AIDS or other immune-suppressant diseases, for example.

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