Smallpox threat may reemerge
Published Jun 11, 2005 5:14 PM
This May a real international smallpox threat
emerged. The capitalist media has been silent about it. This contrasts with the
time before the invasion of Iraq, when the Bush administration spread rumors
that Iraq might be storing smallpox virus as one of the so-called weapons of
mass destruction (WMD). As with the other WMD, the smallpox story was a total
The campaign in early 2003 to vaccinate medical caregivers, who are
first-responders, as a response to the alleged smallpox threat was also a fraud.
This campaign led to the deaths of at least four health professionals from
side-effects of the vaccine.
In late May in Geneva, Switzerland, the 58th
World Health Assembly, representative body of the World Health Organi za tion
(WHO), was asked by U.S. representatives to change WHO’s rules governing
smallpox virus. The rule changes would allow expanded research with the
extremely dangerous virus.
For centuries, smallpox had been one of the
most deadly diseases. It killed hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Although a vaccine made from cow pox (the word vaccine comes from
vacca—Latin for cow) was introduced in 1796, for over 150 years routine
vaccination was limited to the wealthier countries. As many as 300 million
people died from smallpox in the 20th century until the final
The very last human cases were in 1978 when the virus escaped
from a hospital laboratory in Britain and infected a photographer working in a
nearby room. The photographer also infected her parents.
incident, WHO passed a resolution to kill all remaining stocks of the virus
except for samples that would be kept in laboratory freezers in the U.S. and the
By the 1990s the remaining stocks were
supposed to be destroyed as well, but the U.S. and particularly the Pentagon
objected, claiming the virus was needed to study how to protect people in the
unlikely event that some unknown smallpox virus still existed.
argument was absurd, because smallpox vaccine is made from cowpox, not smallpox.
If by some chance the virus had survived and infected someone, that infection
could provide samples if research was needed.
Nonetheless, the WHO was
powerless to overcome the Pentagon’s objections, and the 1999 destruction
date was postponed to 2002. The U.S. government used the excuse of 9/11 and the
anthrax outbreak that came soon after—which has since been traced to U.S.
military labs—to again put off destruction and to petition for an
expansion of research.
In fact, U.S. researchers had already secretly
created a hybrid virus combining smallpox with other animal pox viruses,
including rabbitpox and cowpox.
The rule changes recently requested would
allow researchers to carry out genetic modification of smallpox and allow virus
samples to be distributed to more laboratories. Genetic modification would mean
taking genes from smallpox virus and inserting them in other viruses or
vice-versa, an expansion of the hybridization that had already been secretly
Natural smallpox already killed about one-third of those people
infected. The modification process could lead to either a more deadly virus or a
virus that could spread even more readily and that could also be carried by
That smallpox was limited to infecting humans made it
possible to eradicate the disease. If animal hosts could carry it, it would be
almost impossible to fully contain it.
Rule changes pose terrible
Such rule changes would pose two terrible dangers.
First, it would give the U.S. military—which, through its Army
Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (AMRIID), controls the
research—an opportunity to develop a new, deadlier bio-weapon.
Second, taking the virus out of the freezer and sharing it with more
laboratories increases the risk of accidental release. If a genetically modified
version gets released, current vaccines might not be effective to stop
Under pressure from other countries in the WHO, rule changes about
genetic modi fications were rejected. But ominously, the WHO leadership, under
tremendous U.S. pressure, has not ruled out the possibility of allowing more
research. The door has been left open which could lead to a smallpox virus
There was never a danger of smallpox from Iraq. Now that
it’s clear that there is a very real danger coming from the Army’s
biological weapons laboratories in Ft. Detrick, Md., the silence from the big
business media is deafening.
Doctor of Public Health Hillel Cohen has
written extensively critiquing the government’s bioterrorism preparedness
programs. He thanks the Third World Network and the Sunshine Project for the
research material used in this article.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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