Stockpiling Vaccine

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Stockpiling Vaccine

"U.S. Seeks to Stock Smallpox Vaccine for Whole Nation"

Newspaper article

By: Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Date: October 18, 2001

Source: "U.S. Seeks to Stock Smallpox Vaccine for Whole Nation" as published by the New York Times.

About the Author: Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a journalist with the New York Times. Stolberg primarily writes on the subjects of politics and international affairs.


Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, the United States military and government increased efforts to shield Americans from the effects of terrorism. The September 11th attacks were followed shortly thereafter by anthrax-laced letters that were mailed to key political leaders and media personnel. Also, snipers located in the Washington D.C. area shot several randomly chosen individuals. Although The D.C. sniper was not connected to international terrorism, and authorities later concluded the anthrax attacks originated from within the United States, each of these actions led to federal legislation to increase the country's preparedness for a possible bioterrorism attack. One preparation included the purchase and stockpiling of smallpox vaccines. Smallpox is a disease caused by the variola virus and is often fatal, but the vaccine can prevent infection for several years, or if given after exposure can prevent or lessen the disease's impact. Smallpox was considered eradicated in 1979, but the possible threat of terrorists gaining access to existing stores of the virus for use in a bioterrorist attack prompted authorities to take action.

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


On 20 January 2004, the U.S. Congress amended the Public Health Service Act to provide additional avenues of support for countermeasures against chemical, radiological, and nuclear agents that may be used in a terrorist attack. Essentially, countermeasures include civil protections, vaccines, and defense plans to stop or prevent attacks by terrorists.

The United States sought to implement countermeasures for biological terrorist attacks when CIA and FBI intelligence reports stated it was possible that Iraq and other unauthorized countries had stockpiles of the smallpox virus. The only two countries authorized by the World health Organization to hold the smallpox vaccine are the United States and the former Soviet Union but intelligence reports asserted that the Soviet Union had possibly inadvertently supplied North Korea and Iraq with smallpox specimens.

The Soviet Union and the United States gained the right to store and research the smallpox virus because of post World War II peace accords and international political presences in organizations like the United Nations. Other major world powers also held stocks of the virus, but in 1978, the virus escaped from a British laboratory, infected a photographer in a nearby room, and she infected her parents. As a result of these actions, the World Health Organization passed a resolution to kill all remaining stocks of the virus except for those in the United States and Soviet Union.

The smallpox specimens were supposed to be destroyed in the 1990s under orders from the World Health Organization, but the U.S. successfully argued that samples of the smallpox virus were needed for future testing and for the possibility that researchers might one day need to vaccinate the general public again. The proposed destruction date of 1999 was postponed until 2002, but the September 11th terrorist attacks halted the destruction of the virus indefinitely. Opponents to storing the virus state that it is too dangerous to keep such a volatile disease on hand and assert that it can be obtained from other sources, such as from graves of smallpox victims or live animals infected with a similar virus in order to conduct research.

In 2003, U.S. officials sought to vaccinate front-line public health workers, state officials, and Pentagon workers against the virus with plans to extend the vaccination network outward. The vaccine can have serious side effects, although seldomly, and opponents to the program quickly voiced their opinions. Currently, the United States has halted mainstream vaccination plans, but is still acquiring smallpox vaccine.



Laqueur, Walter. The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Web sites "Terrorism drill tests country's readiness." <> (accessed 22 June 2005). "Smallpox: Threat, Vaccine, and US Policy." <> (accessed 26 June 2005).