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US Preserves Smallpox For Defense 248

lee1 writes "The US is preserving the last remaining known strains of smallpox in case they are needed to develop bio-warfare 'countermeasures' and as a hedge against possible outbreaks in a population with no natural immunity. 451 specimens are stored in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control, and 120 strains at the Russian Vector laboratory in Siberia. Meanwhile, the government has contracted to pay almost $3 billion to procure 14 million smallpox vaccination doses."
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US Preserves Smallpox For Defense

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  • Duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Random2 ( 1412773 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @12:58PM (#36167828) Journal

    Don't see why this is news; it's not like the US is the only place with virus reserves. And, it'd be very difficult to develop a vaccine for a disease without samples to work with (unless we want to try and catch infected people and draw samples before they die, which would just increase the deaths).

    Can't see how anyone besides the ultra-paranoid would see this as a problem, nukes pose a more significant and real threat than these stored samples...

  • Re:Evils... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fredmosby ( 545378 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:06PM (#36167936)
    They're keeping the samples so they can use them to make vaccines if there is an outbreak.
  • over time, complacency will rot security, and over time, creative malintentioned individuals or organizations will exploit that. a smallpox outbreak would be like 10-100 9/11s or 10-100 fukushimas. destruction then seems preferable. you don't even need an actual smallpox virus to make a vaccine

    but you are operating against human psychology: we aren't made to discard such power, even if the power is completely malicious

    it may sound odd, but consider the lord of the rings, when humans had the chance to destroy the one ring, but chose to keep it instead. yes, its fiction, but all potent fiction is rooted in real human psychology, or such fiction wouldn't have any resonance or attraction to us in terms of storytelling ability. and with the lord of the rings we have valuable insight into how our own weaknesses and greed and lust for power hurt us in the long term

    we won't destroy smallpox. and we will be hurt by that decision, many years from now

  • by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:19PM (#36168158)

    The problem is not those with declared stocks. The problem is that someone who isn't declaring it has some stored. Theyd be much more likely to do something untoward with it. And, if they do, then how would destroying small known stocks be anything but symbolism?

    We're really early in the game of understanding the genetic basis of disease virulence. It's hard to say what may be useful in the way of organisms to be used in that kind of research.

    Some emergent virus that uses some of smallpox's tricks may show up and we'd regret not having it available to study to better understand the new one.

  • Re:Science? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:25PM (#36168242)

    The odds of them using smallpox as a weapon are too low to risk vaccinating everyone. The vaccination program would harm far more people. I don't mean that in a crazy autism way, I mean from bad reactions to the vaccine. Every vaccine has a rate at which these occur and we can compare that to the risks Al Qaeda poses. Since Al Qaeda has so far in the last 50 years killed less people in the USA than farm animals and they show no sign of getting stronger we can probably forgo the vaccinations for now.

  • Re:Evils... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:26PM (#36168256)
    Do you know for a fact that there exists no other sources of smallpox in the world? Do you know that no country/organization other than the US/Russia has smallpox samples? Do you know that there are no remote, indigenous population that still carries smallpox? Smallpox has been eradicated from the developed world and most of the under-developed world, but no one can be sure it is completely gone.
  • you know its actually hard to get infectiousness and delivery vector just right. humans are puny in their ability to fine tune that. you need to stop basing your appraisals of human biotech ability on hollywood movies

    however, mother nature is a much better laboratory for this purpose. SARS and swine flu are just a taste of things to come. mother nature abhors imbalance, and whenever a homogenous population gets too large within mother nature (which is what we are), then the other part of mother nature thinks "food that should be exploited". for our purposes, since no large carnivores threaten us, the threat is from the other end of the scale: the diseases that don't care about anything except reproducing, looking at us like a giant pristine smorgasbord, just waiting for exploitation. and, mark my words, some microroganism will crack that magical infectiousness/ delivery vector code someday, catch us unawares, and spread like wildfire. it's just a matter of time and probability. and our population is just too huge and dense to escape this corrective mechanism

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @02:45PM (#36169224)

    Since the smallpox genome was decoded and published in 2006, it is impossible to rid the world of the threat of smallpox.

    The Vaccinia virus used in smallpox vaccinations is 95% similar to smallpox (see []). This means that the base difference is 10,000 bases. This is only modestly more than the 7500 bases assembled to synthetically recreate polio, which was also accomplished in 2006. You can order custom gene sequences of 1000 base pairs today at a cost of $1.30 per base pair.

    A gene assembly lab, a sample of Vaccinia and a hundred thousand dollars can recreate smallpox today.

    There is no other option but continue smallpox research for defensive purposes.

The road to ruin is always in good repair, and the travellers pay the expense of it. -- Josh Billings