US Snaps Up Huge Stockpile of Smallpox Drug

Experts question need for $463M anti-bioterror buy
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2013 4:04 AM CDT
Smallpox killed millions of people a year before it was eradicated with vaccination campaigns.   (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

(Newser) – More than 30 years after the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated, the federal government has spent $463 million on enough medicine to treat two million cases. The only stocks of the smallpox virus known to still exist are in heavily guarded labs in Atlanta and Moscow, but experts won't rule out the existence of renegade stocks or the possibility of the once-feared killer being genetically engineered back into existence, the New York Times reports.

The huge federal order will be a bonanza for Siga Technologies, a small biotech firm that created the new smallpox medicine, but some experts say the government is buying way too much—especially since it already has a stockpile of 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine. "Is it appropriate to stockpile it? Absolutely,” a bioweapons expert at Rutgers University says. “Is it appropriate to stockpile two million doses? Absolutely not. Twenty thousand seems like the right number.” (Read more smallpox stories.)

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