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.

NEXT: A Better Way to Frack?

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  1. I just finished reading Earth Abides. I figure the book has some fans in Washington.

    1. I didn’t think anyone other than me and my dad had ever even heard of that book.

      1. I got it off of some list of great science fiction novels. I’d heard of it before, long ago.

        I thought it was quite good.

        1. Read that many years ago, perhaps I was too young to realize that it was smallpox that killed everyone.

          A good read, just the same.

          1. I don’t the disease is ever identified. However, the possibility that it was a weaponized disease was mentioned.

  2. Somebody get that kid an umbrella.

    1. This is good news! I like the idea we have two libertarians seeking the GOP nod. The important thing is that they both are spreading the message. If Willie Nelson can help them do that, this is great news.

      1. He’s gonna have to go “On The Road Again.”

    2. Gary Johnson is being carefully groomed by the Republican Party to be the new Ron Paul. Ron Paul exists to lure liberty-minded voters to the Republican Party. And now that he’s very old, Gary Johnson will gradually replace him rfor the insidious work of distracting libertarians from the Libertarian Party. The LP is growing into a threat because we really mean what we say about citizen liberty and limited government, and the Republicans can’t have that because we make them look like liars.

      1. This is the kind of paranoia about government and political parties that made America great.

      2. “The LP is growing into a threat”


  3. So if smallpox was eradicated 30 years ago, how come I got a smallpox vaccine when I joined the Army 20 years ago?

    Oh, that’s right, because the US and Russia have stockpiles of it. Way to play to my paranoia, US government. Well done!

    1. even if they destroyed it, all you would have to do is resynthesize the DNA and slather it on someone’s skin. All it takes is one molecule!

  4. “In addition, Mother Nature may be brewing up another similar pox scourge from near relatives that afflict other creatures like monkeys.”

    Sucks to be me.

    1. …from near relatives that afflict other creatures like monkeys. + alt-text photo = racism?

      1. Sure, why not

    2. Never trust a monkey

      1. SPECIEIST!!!!

    3. To be fair, though, we’ve cured HIV in you guys, like, five times by now.

  5. Besides, as Weinstein points out, modern genetic science makes it possible for someone to recreate the virus anyway.

    To my mind that just strengthens the argument to go ahead and destroy the stockpile of “live” virus. The genetic sequence is known, so if we ever need to recreate the virus we can.

    1. yeah, but having live virus around makes it quicker to turn around a vaccine if that should happen, so you don’t have to pilot a resurrection protocol.

      1. Dammit, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a rogue biologist!

      2. The vaccine is the vaccine virus. No live smallpox virus is necessary for vaccination (that’s why it’s called vaccination).

        1. well, if someone modifies the smallpox and to evade the vaccinia, you’re probably going to want to start with the smallpox genome to develop a new vaccine using modern methods, like, VLP generation.

      3. Um… are viruses “alive” to begin with?

        1. “live” is a term used to describe viruses with infective and propagative capacity, versus, say, a synthetic scaffold that looks like a virus but with no viral genetic material (empty of DNA, RNA) or a virus that has been “killed” by blasting it with enough radiation to prevent propagation in a “statistically significant” fashion.

  6. Plus, if it does make a sudden resurgence, having a stockpile will allow a quicker vaccinization process.

    1. Isn’t that what they said about swine flu a couple of years ago?

    2. Considering that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became known that the Soviet Military had kept a separate, secret reserve and was cultivating the virus as a weapon, I think that it is a mistake to destroy the stockpile.

      1. Yeah. If they want to annihilate us they’ll send over ICBMs full of smallpox.

        1. Or just infect a would-be defector and let him over here.

          1. The Killer That Stalked New York.

            OK, it’s not about a defector, but it’s still a surprisingly good low-budget movie. (And it’s been released to DVD since I wrote that post.)

      2. Mr. President, we must not allow a smallpox gap!

  7. Why is there a picture of Seal with this article?

    1. I haven’t got around to looking at his face

      1. The Washington monument always seems to block my view.

        1. stay away from my man’s banana hammock!

  8. “Monkeys are like nature’s humans.”

  9. In other words we can’t get rid of smallpox for the same reason I can’t get rid of any of the junk in my garage. I might need it someday!

  10. Don’t destroy it
    known stockpile is a hell of a lot different than the only virus, and there may be other reasons not yet predicted to keep it

  11. Besides, the Aztecs might get uppity again someday, and then we’ll really wish we had some smallpox handy.

    In all seriousness, would there be some kind of international regime which inspects facilities to make sure nobody keeps any? It’s not that I don’t trust Putin to play fair, it’s just that I don’t trust Putin to play fair.

    1. “Fair”? That is a western concept.

    2. Americans refer to internal problems of the Soviet Union as the increasing military expenses to compete with the US but it truth they have their own internal problems with their Muslim soldier population

      -No, we cannot trust them

    3. In Russia, government not trust YOU!

    4. The thing about using smallpox as a virus is that no rational, non-evil actor could ever use it. Even if some nasty person did do that, it wouldn’t do any good to retaliate in kind. It would spread to the whole world soon enough. And the virus is not necessary to produce vaccine. The vaccine is a different live virus.

      1. yes, but if you had to do it again today, no sane molecular biologist would start from vaccinia.

  12. “In addition, Mother Nature may be brewing up another similar pox scourge from near relatives that afflict other creatures like monkeys.”


  13. Ronald, why did you use a picture of Candyman’s son to accompany the article?

    1. I was thinking Seal earlier, but now I think it’s the illegitimate black offspring of Pinhead…before he hit puberty.

  14. Why keep this particular evil around?

    Because unilaterally getting rid of your samples of a weaponizable virus while a hostile nation keeps yours takes a giant, and not necessarily wise, leap of faith.

  15. modern genetic science makes it possible for someone to recreate the virus anyway

    if we can create it anyway why do we need to keep it?

    1. If it’s easy to create what do you gain by destroying it?

      If that’s the argument you want to use, the burden is on you to prove that samples of the virus will never be useful for anything.

      1. If it’s easy to create what do you gain by destroying it?

        You eliminate the possibility of an accidental discharge, or theft and intentional discharge, of the virus into the meatsphere.

        If you know the genome of the virus, what do you gain by keeping stockpiles of it?

  16. The photo with the article is a mild case:

    1. Sorry, but that’s not smallpox.

      It’s a picture of a very young Katy Perry before she got on Proactiv.

    2. “It puts the lotion on it’s skin.”

  17. Pandora’s box. Even if smallpox has been eradicated as a human disease, how can we be ever 100% sure there isn’t some old indian blanket burried in a cave somewhere with smallpox virus all over it?

    It’s like destroying the last copies of a banned book, because you think nobody will ever read it again.

    1. There was an episode of House kind of like that.

    2. Or the many bodies of people who died of it buried in frozen ground.

      Probably better keep it, just in case.

  18. Keeping the virus was the right decision. Better to have and not need than need and not have.

    1. It seems kind of like a publicity stunt anyway.

      So they can say “We have ERADICATED Smapp Pox! Mission Accomplished!”

      1. Er Small Pox

  19. I am not sure if the smallpox virus should be destroyed. What if these aren’t really the last remaining samples and we need it in the future for medical research?

    POLL: Should the last remaining smallpox samples be destroyed?

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