US, Russia Fighting to Keep Smallpox

Virus samples needed to guard against bioterrorism, US argues
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2011 4:21 AM CST
Members of the Association of French Models line up for their smallpox vaccinations in 1955.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – Smallpox was once one of the deadliest diseases ever known, but now only the US and Russia stand between it and utter annihilation. The two countries have the last known stocks of the virus, which was eradicated by vaccination more than 30 years ago, and they're resisting efforts to set a deadline for destroying them, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Washington and Moscow argue that their tightly guarded stocks of the virus are needed to develop drugs and vaccines to counter potential bioterror attacks or releases of the virus from unknown stocks that may exist elsewhere. Other governments, however, fear that the American and Russian samples of the virus could themselves be misused, stolen, or accidentally released. "It is the same logic by which the superpowers continue the possession of the nuclear weapons. They wish to hold on to the smallpox virus as a super bio-weapon," argues a World Health Organization adviser.
(Read more smallpox stories.)

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