Smallpox extinction

113141.44 at 113141.44 at
Thu Sep 2 11:56:12 EST 1999

On 30 Aug 1999 13:41:41 -0700, Robert Means <remeans at>

>Hello All,
>	What do people think? Should the "last" smallpox stock be
>destroyed or kept stored for future scientific use?
>Dr. Robert E. Means
>Harvard Medical School
>remeans at
I believe it is essential that the existing (known) stocks of smallpox
virus be preserved, for two reasons:

1/ there are no guarantees that separate stocks are not being held by
individuals or governments who may release the virus at some future
date, infecting a world-wide human population where there is no-longer
any active immunity to the disease.  The results would be horrific and
extremely damaging to world economies.
Related to this point, if such stocks had been genetically
manipulated, existing vaccines may be ineffective.  The continued
storage of 'wild-type' virus would enable comparisons to be made
between the wild-type and the new strain(s) and may be useful in the
development of new vaccine.  Although such development and scaling-up
of production of an effective vaccine would take time, the loss of
many human lives is preferable to the decimation of populations which
would otherwise occur.

2/ Mankind's knowledge of the living world is still in its infancy.
It would be arrogant to assume that we know everything there is to
know about smallpox and its interactions with all other free-living
organisms.  The virus may yet turn out to have an unexpected quality
which we can turn to our own advantage.

The 'officially' held stocks of smallpox are (I trust) safe from
accidental release by any means.  Let's not be hasty in our desire to
destroy them.  After all, there are many more dangerous bacteria and
viruses in the world (e.g. bacillus anthracis, clostridium botulinum,
yersinia pestis, ebola etc) which are not very difficult for
individuals and governments to obtain, culture and disperse if they
choose to do-so.  Mankind is in danger from a lot more than a few
aliquots of smallpox !!

Comments welcomed.

Dr Stephen Flanagan

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