Smallpox May Get Stay of Execution


Smallpox was no joke

Smallpox was eradicated over thirty years ago. The U.S. and Russia are holding in freezers the only two admitted remaining stockpiles of live virus. In the 1990s, the World Health Organization panel recommended that these stocks be destroyed. The concern is that this killer of hundreds of millions of people could be unleashed again. In 2007, the WHO put off the decision to destroy the smallpox stocks until this year. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. government has asked global health officials to agree to retain the last known stockpiles of smallpox for now and conduct a review of research progress in another five years.

Why keep this particular evil around? Georgetown University School of Medicine researcher Raymond Weinstein argues:

The immune alterations produced by smallpox can serve as a window and guide to previously unappreciated immunologic mechanisms, the full understanding of which might lead to new therapeutic options for a host of diseases, both infectious and autoimmune. No one can yet be certain what role, if any, an intact variola virus might play in future research, and in providing important new insights into the human immune response as well as into the malevolence of this virus and related viruses. It is certain, however, that if the last remaining stockpiles are destroyed, the door to any possibility of future research employing the virus will be forever and irreversibly shut.

Besides, as Weinstein points out, modern genetic science makes it possible for someone to recreate the virus anyway. In addition, Mother Nature may be brewing up another similar pox scourge from near relatives that afflict other creatures like monkeys.