Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Medicine Government The Almighty Buck United States Politics

The $443 Million Smallpox Vaccine That Nobody Needs 290

Posted by samzenpus
from the always-be-prepared dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Once feared for its grotesque pustules and 30% death rate, smallpox was eradicated worldwide as of 1978 and is known to exist only in the locked freezers of a Russian scientific institute and the US government. There is no credible evidence that any other country or a terrorist group possesses smallpox, but if there were an attack, the government could draw on $1 billion worth of smallpox vaccine it already owns to inoculate the entire US population and quickly treat people exposed to the virus. The vaccine, which costs the government $3 per dose, can reliably prevent death when given within four days of exposure. David Williams writes that over the last year, the Obama administration has aggressively pushed a $433-million plan to buy an experimental smallpox drug, despite uncertainty over whether it is needed or will work. So why did the government award a "sole-source" procurement to Siga Technologies Inc., whose controlling shareholder is billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, calling for Siga to deliver 1.7 million doses of the drug for the nation's biodefense stockpile at a price of approximately $255 per dose. 'We've got a vaccine that I hope we never have to use — how much more do we need?' says epidemiologist Dr. Donald A. Henderson who led the global eradication of smallpox for the WHO. 'The bottom line is, we've got a limited amount of money.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The $443 Million Smallpox Vaccine That Nobody Needs

Comments Filter:
  • Is it Budget month?

  • by hardtofindanick (1105361) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:36PM (#38092612)
    ron pearlman [wikipedia.org] was cool guy
  • by liquidweaver (1988660) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:37PM (#38092636)

    Person 1 wants money, and person 2 wants to give it to them. Person 2 has lots of money to spend that he's trusted with by other people, so he can't just give the money to person 1, so he comes up with a way to include it as part of a bigger deal that looks like business.

    Sounds like the textbook definition of corruption I learned in macro econ in highschool. This clumsy scheme is just above obvious, too. I guess it works so well with Chertoff and Rapiscan, hell, why even try to hide it anymore?

    Wallstreet should get a clue - they don't need to create 5 layers of finiancial instruments to hide corruption anymore - this is 2011. The govt does whatever the hell it wants, and if you don't like it the media will paint you to be an unwashed mass who needs "to get a job".

    Sorry, I started to vent a little there.

  • Time travel (Score:4, Funny)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:37PM (#38092642)

    Obviously this is proof that time travel has been discovered by the military and there is a fear that someone will bring back small pox.

    • Re:Time travel (Score:5, Interesting)

      by expatriot (903070) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:07PM (#38092984)

      google "synthesis of smallpox". Bringing it back is easy. Smallpox has an interesting combination of infectiousness, fatality rate, and countermeasures. My guess is that a weponized smallpox could be done for 10-20 million.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      I saw that. It was a bad remake of The Andromeda Strain.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      BW is always a hazard. If the military gets complacent, bad shit happens.

      That the Soviets were not so long ago working a vigorous BW program means the leftovers, and leftover scientists, pose a threat.

  • Stop posting all these anti Obama articles.....they are not supposed to be covered. You need to call the New York TImes to get your daily meme that they are pushing. You have lost the narrative when you start letting people know whats really going on. thanks...thats all for now.
  • by undeadbill (2490070) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:44PM (#38092732)

    "Siga's drug, an antiviral pill called ST-246, would be used to treat people who were diagnosed with smallpox too late for the vaccine to help. Yet the new drug cannot be tested for effectiveness in people because of ethical constraints — and no one knows whether animal testing could prove it would work in humans."

    The disease has a lot of characteristics that make it a good weaponized agent. In fact, this has been one of the most studied diseases in that regard. To my knowledge, there is no known treatment/cure for smallpox- you either get vaccinated before symptoms show, or you suffer through it and possibly die. Its means of infection are well known, and I would hazard a guess that someone in the US DoD would find a smallpox *treatment/cure* that works after an infection has taken hold something worth studying for other purposes. It would also seem to me that the military is hedging its bets my making sure other nations don't get this technology as well.

    • by john.r.strohm (586791) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:11PM (#38093014)

      No, smallpox does NOT make a good weaponized agent.

      One of the key attributes of a bioweapon is controllability. You want it to hit who and where you want it to hit, and you DON'T want it to hit outside that area. In particular, you DON'T want it to be significantly contagious - and smallpox is one of the most horribly contagious diseases known to Man.

      Pneumonic anthrax, on the other hand, while highly lethal, is essentially not contagious from person to person. This makes it an ideal bioweapon candidate, as was demonstrated some years back - and they STILL haven't found the $^%#&%$!!! who did it.

      • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:19PM (#38093108)
        Depends on what your goal is. If you want to kill as many people as possible it sounds like a great weapon.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745)

        You lack imagination. Small pox dispersal would cause a lot of problems, and if you are the one dispersing it, you simple shut your borders while it spreads.
        Of course, a vaccine would be made pretty quick, so you would reap it's benefits.
        Or you create a vaccine before dispersal.

        This assume you actual are about who gets it. Maybe you just want to bring death to all infidels because, clearly, your god would protect you.
        Well not YOU, but who ever did it.

        Al Qaeda did the anthrax attacks. It's pretty much confir

        • by Dahamma (304068)

          By "shut your borders" you are implying a nation would be the one delivering it... if so, there are a lot worse weapons in the arsenals of the top militaries than smallpox. Any attack of this sort (or, really any attack with a chemical, biological or nuclear WMD) is going to be done not by a military, but terrorists who just want to spread fear and aren't all conveniently located in one location that could subsequently be wiped off the planet by the victim...

        • by IonOtter (629215) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @10:32PM (#38094080) Homepage

          "Al Qaeda did the anthrax attacks. It's pretty much confirmed."

          [citation needed]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by causality (777677)

        No, smallpox does NOT make a good weaponized agent.

        One of the key attributes of a bioweapon is controllability. You want it to hit who and where you want it to hit, and you DON'T want it to hit outside that area. In particular, you DON'T want it to be significantly contagious - and smallpox is one of the most horribly contagious diseases known to Man.

        Pneumonic anthrax, on the other hand, while highly lethal, is essentially not contagious from person to person. This makes it an ideal bioweapon candidate, as was demonstrated some years back - and they STILL haven't found the $^%#&%$!!! who did it.

        That didn't stop the early American government from using it as a biological weapon against the Native Americans. Those individuals were evil and they were cowards so they exposed blankets and other items to the virus and then "donated" them to the indigenous tribes.

        Now imagine a scenario like that but with modern technology (i.e. delivery methods). Controllability could be as simple as "we have a military budget and easy access to vaccines, drugs, and haz-mat suits while our targets don't."

        There ju

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by HornWumpus (783565)

          Smallpox dies in a couple of days on a blanket.

          But keep repeating the myth.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by ShieldW0lf (601553)

            Viruses are not alive, and never die. You can catch smallpox from a 2000 year old mummy's tomb.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @11:30PM (#38094342)

              I hope you were trolling. If not, please read the below, viruses are nothing more than complex organic structures, they too are prone to decomposition.

                http://liambean.hubpages.com/hub/How-Long-Do-Viruses-Live

              A smallpox virus at room temperature in an undisturbed environment could remain viable for years if not decades.

              Hepatitis A&B viruses can live, undisturbed on surfaces outside a host cell for up to a week. Hepatitis B can also be contracted sexually.

              HIV can typically survive outside a host cell undisturbed for no more than a few hours.

              A rhino-virus can live undisturbed outside a host cell for up to a day.

              It is thought that influenza viruses can last outside a host cell undisturbed for up to two days.

            • Not entirely true. Viruses don't die, but their structure is easily broken down over time by oxidation, UV radiation, and other environmental factors.

              You might be able to catch Smallpox from a mummies tomb, but that doesn't mean the virus doesn't break down after a few days in a different set of conditions.
          • by 517714 (762276) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @11:29PM (#38094334)
            Holding contrarian views is a great way to feel superior, until someone points to evidence that you are wrong. Variola (smallpox) virus can survive years, even decades [google.com] under good conditions. The correspondence about the plans to distribute blankets to indians does exist [umass.edu] if you care to enlighten yourself.
        • by syncrotic (828809)

          [Citation needed]

          Please provide some evidence that the spread of disease was deliberate rather than incidental. Or that people even understood that blankets could be a vector for disease transmission.

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        It does if you want a doomsday deterrent a la MAD. It also does if you want to quickly wipe out the population of target country/region, and then take it over with your inoculated, immune people.

      • by PCM2 (4486)

        One of the key attributes of a bioweapon is controllability. You want it to hit who and where you want it to hit, and you DON'T want it to hit outside that area. In particular, you DON'T want it to be significantly contagious - and smallpox is one of the most horribly contagious diseases known to Man.

        Smallpox is eminently controllable. We're so good at controlling it that it's been eradicated from the face of the Earth. We're so good at controlling it, in fact, that nobody in the U.S. (with the exception of some military personnel) has received a smallpox vaccination since 1972. The only thing that an enemy would need to "control it" would be to start vaccinating again.

    • by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:11PM (#38093018)
      I wish I had mod points. A quick check on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] shows that this is in fact (quite likely) a cure (NOT a vaccine) with no serious side effects. Of a virus. That is worth money to study. AFAIK no-one actually has a cure for pretty much any virus yet (although there are some pretty effective drugs now). If this can in fact do that, then that is definitely worth it. Especially since the vaccine wouldn't work after symptoms show, meaning a lot of people would probably die from an outbreak.
  • Not so simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by NeverWorker1 (1686452) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:46PM (#38092750)
    While this does sound like shady dealing, there are legitimate reasons to build a stockpile of an alternate vaccine. The current one is not without its risks and side effects that significantly limit the population to whom it can be safely administered [wikipedia.org]. In particular, they've had to stop immunizing first responders because of the risk. When the WHO was using ring vaccination to eradicate the disease, they accepted that a on the order of 1 in 1,000 would die from the vaccine. Obviously that's something we would like to avoid if possible.
    • by Firethorn (177587) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:21PM (#38093128) Homepage Journal

      Your mentioning of the death rate for the ring vaccination reminded me of variolation, the earliest known deliberate vaccination method for smallpox.

      Variolation had a death rate of 1-2%. But 'wild caught' smallpox had a death rate of around 30%, so even royalty variolated their kids as the safest alternative.

      We're absolutely spoiled in modern society when it comes to disease. It used to be the #1 killer. Disease used to kill more soldiers in campaigns than the fighting did.

      • by ediron2 (246908) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:29PM (#38093240) Journal

        As a former (and probably future) volunteer first responder, I'm ok with us (government of/by/for the people) spending an extra $250 for my old coworkers' vaccines, rather than kill even one in TENS of thousands of first responders..

        This story smells like more 'how to lie with statistics' by some reactionary rightwing think tank. Typical day on slashdot, alas.

        • It's not a vaccine for first responders though. By some readings, it's not even a true vaccine, not being intended to provide immunity before catching the disease.

          I'm also fine with giving first responders vaccines for stuff that they're fairly unlikely to encounter. Still, I think we need to consider the likelihood that smallpox will either somehow be released (perhaps by an unknown store), or redevelop in the wild. The first is fairly unlikely at this point, and the second would most likely simply be a

        • by 517714 (762276)
          Yeah it's a great idea, as long as we are attacked within the three year shelf life of the pill. Don't worry that the vast majority of your old coworkers will not be on the short list of recipients in any event. A volunteer first responder will not receive the pill, period - 1.7 million doses can't be squandered. Don't think for a second that the distribution of the pills will be any more equitable than the issuance of the contract for them. That isn't the problem it may seem, since the pill probably wo
      • by geekoid (135745)

        But with further cuts to 'wasteful' government, we can return to the good ol' days. Diseases, Rober barons, factory fires, and toxic sludge dump into the drink water. As an added bonus, the people won't have recourse.

        • But with further cuts to 'wasteful' government, we can return to the good ol' days.

          Personally, I'd consider this a valid target for 'pork' spending. Expensive with no real prospect of providing serious benefit. The government doesn't even need to just NOT spend this money, spending it somewhere more effective is a valid alternative. There's plenty of options.

          What about using this money to fund a poison control center(previously subject to attempted cuts)? They not only prevent unnecessary emergency room visits, they save lives. What about orphan drugs? Rural medical programs? Givin

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 17, 2011 @07:49PM (#38092784)

    The government puts the vaccine to use regularly. The fill up airplanes with it and the resulting chemtrails are what give people autism.

    WAKE UP, PEOPLE.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...when Democrats do it. Never mind a certain $3T war with lots of tasty no-bid contracts to the Vice President's company...

    • Mod parent up (AC or not). From what others have said, it looks like this drug might not be a bad thing to have. Even if it wasn't necessary, almost half a billion is peanuts next to what's been spent on a war of dubious merit since 9/11.
      • by DurendalMac (736637) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:22PM (#38093142)
        Yeah, but at $255 per dose? On a drug that hasn't even been tested? This has "corporate handjob" written all over it.
        • by breeze95 (880714)

          Yeah, but at $255 per dose? On a drug that hasn't even been tested? This has "corporate handjob" written all over it.

          There is a drug in manufactured in Mexico used for treating Scorpion sting. The drug cost $400 per dose in Mexico. The same drug is imported to America and cost $12,000 per dose. That’s how much the hospital charges you. Specialty drugs cost a lot of money and at $255 per dose that’s not bad at all.

    • Yeah, because we never saw stories on that or heard plenty about it!

      Oh, wait...
    • by ArcherB (796902)

      ...when Democrats do it. Never mind a certain $3T war with lots of tasty no-bid contracts to the Vice President's company...

      Oh, then that makes it OK.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Someone forget that this was reported in the news? Repeatedly, and often about the no-bid contracts. Well not only that, but that he'd long since sold shares and ownership in said company? But hey, what about all those democrats that have been making money by illegally using insider trading? I mean they've been on with the republicans who did it, but the dem's? Hah no. And only one democrat is willing to put a stop to it, but has full backing of the republicans.

      Partisan hacks suck.

  • Consider the source (Score:5, Informative)

    by guises (2423402) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:04PM (#38092954)
    Before you all get upset about this, consider that there's probably more to the story. The source is Commentary Magazine, whose headlines right now are:

    "National Cost of “Occupation” to Top $12 Million"

    "Toomey Offers Democrats a Way Out of Supercommittee Standoff"

    "Warren Backs Away From OWS"

    "Police Reportedly Slashed, Attacked With Liquid at OWS"

    Etc. I don't know anything about this story myself, but I know enough by this point not to just believe people when they say something bad happened at the hands of "the Obama administration."
    • by pclminion (145572)
      Oh my God, the cost of the Occupation is $12 million! That's, like, 3.4 cents per person! WE CAN'T AFFORD THAT!
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Granted what you say may be true.
      However, an alternate explanation would be that only peripheral media outlets - not being in the tank for the current administration - would carry such a story.

      Remember, nobody believed the Monica Lewinsky story at first, because it was on this stupid blog called the Drudge Report.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      it's funny how at the very end they just kind of mention the fact that it hasn't been awarded, and they administration changed key parts to make the bidding fair.
      While 438 million is a lot of money, it's not the 1.2+billion is was going to be in 2008.

  • That's the phrase that bothers me...

  • Please see this [youtube.com] video. Long story short, $443 million isn't a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. Now, $70 billion in tax cuts for the rich? Well, we're starting to talk some real money. The cost of the Iraq war? Yeah, about that...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, because there exist numbers larger than the sum in discussion, we should never bother with it ? This may be smaller than the military budget, but is not a small number by any measure. This is not five bucks we're talking about. I will not make this much money in my entire life. You won't either, since you invoked "the rich" argument.

      The government is a like a sieve, leaking money to interested parties everywhere. 400 million here, 500 million for solar power, some more for body scanners, hey, shit adds

    • So it's fine to piss away $443mn because it's less than $70bn?
      • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:57PM (#38093536)

        So it's fine to piss away $443mn because it's less than $70bn?

        Do you code? If I'm trying to improve the performance of a program I've written, I might notice little things here and there that could be done a bit faster. For example, I might have be saying pow(x, 2) someplace, and I know that for integers, it's far more efficient to just type x*x. I'm not wrong, that would be faster. And yet, if I waste any time fixing that type of stuff, I'm an idiot. You profile the program, you find the sections where your code is spending the most time on, and you fix that. If the profiler is telling you that the pow function is the problem, then you fix it. Otherwise I've spent a lot of time fixing things and my code will still perform super-slow.

        It's not fine to piss away $443 mn. That said, it's also not fine to waste resources trying to fix that problem when there are bigger problems to be fixed. Fix the bigger problems first, then go back to the $443mn when it actually does represent a significant portion of the problem. Otherwise you waste a lot of time only to discover we're still just as broke.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        No, but this isn't pissing it away.

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @10:41PM (#38094106)

      ...$443 million isn't a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. Now, $70 billion in tax cuts for the rich? Well, we're starting to talk some real money. The cost of the Iraq war? Yeah, about that...

      Cost of the Iraqi war? Peanuts compared to the $20 trillion lost during the financial meltdown, but enough about numbers...I find it quite refreshing that people are upset over even half a billion in possible waste. Maybe it's a sign of the apathy starting to thaw out from the frozen flock. Hey, Obama wanted more "open Government"...he's only getting exactly what he asked for. The spotlight.

  • It isn't a vaccine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by purduefan (604889) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:13PM (#38093036)
    This isn't an article about a second vaccine. It is about a drug that we don't know will work, that costs a lot, and will expire before it is ever used.
  • by MushMouth (5650) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:26PM (#38093202) Homepage

    For Air Conditioning for one week in Afghanistan.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:30PM (#38093242) Homepage Journal
    Why not just bring back the smallpox vaccine as a standard vaccination for children, and recommend booster shots for adults every decade or so? The military and their families got them regularly back when I was a boy, and I still have the scars to prove it. Not that I'd be keen to rely on a decades-old vaccination if push came to shove. We could just have a "You guys are getting a free (And Mandatory) flu and smallpox shot this year" day and then we wouldn't have to worry about that so much.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday November 17, 2011 @08:31PM (#38093260) Journal

    Here are my comments that I attached to this post while it was in slashdot/recent. I guess the editors didn't take much heed.

    RTFA

    Ok, I know that the LA times is not what I would call the paragon of great journalism but still you should closely RTFA. (Compare the writing in this, where the writer just seems to go on and on reciting facts without concise summarization and a coherent narrative to that of a well written NYTimes piece).

    First the fact that these guys "are long time political donors" and "65% of their donations went to the Democratic party in 2008 and 2010" do not automatically make them "longtime Democratic donors". I'm not saying they aren't but don't jump to conclusions (Isn't it possible that these guys, seeing the way the political winds were shifting sent more of their money to the Democrats those years? Also if they gave only 65% to anyone that implies they weren't hardcore supporters, they didn't give 100% did they?).

    Second; according to TFA most of the company's actions took place under the Bush administration. The company was formed after Bush made anti-bio weapons preparedness a priority and the Bush administration were the ones who gave the company its grants (did they receive even a dime under the Obama administration?).

    Third; again according to TFA, the reason for the "sole source" agreement is because of a regulation otherwise requiring them to be a small business (they aren't, they have more than 500 people). So, according to TFA, that was the reason they had to do this and not because the Bush?/Obama? administration unduly applied pressure.

    I could go on and say how, in TFA, some epidemiologists think it's a waste of money and how other, equally credentialed ones say it isn't. Still, please note that it DOES have a use beyond the original vaccine. If you get sick and don't get the original vaccine within four days, this will save you. Otherwise you die. Is that a waste of money? Reasonable people may disagree. (Smallpox the physical virus MAY* be present in only two locations but I believe its DNA sequence was published on the Internet).

    Look, maybe the poorly written LA times article caused these mistakes in the summary. But that's what you get when you choose poor journalism. You should be prepared to put in the time and effort to get what is (hopefully) the true story behind the ill-presented facts.

    *you could probably retrieve some from someone buried in the arctic prior to say 1950. That's how they retrieved the black plague recently.

  • http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11240&page=R1 [nap.edu]

    then you can yap about smalpox need.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." -- Karl, as he stepped behind the computer to reboot it, during a FAT

Working...