On Tuesday evening, October 22, the phone rang. It
was a federal official I
have known for years. "The U.S. government can't sit on this much longer," he
told me. His normally calm voice was cracking. "Three people down in Florida have
a rash; 30 are in quarantine. The CDC is all over it." He would not say the word
we both were thinking: smallpox. "I can't stay on the phone; turn on the news,"
"The Smallpox Wars: Biowarfare vs. Public Health,"
by Wendy Orent
The White House announced Thursday that President Clinton
has decided to retain the US held stores of the smallpox virus. Leaning
heavily on a March 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of
Sciences, which explored the scientific need for
retaining the virus, the Administraton reversed its 1996 decision to
New fears of bioterrorism in the wake of the September 11th attacks have made smallpox front-page news. Could an epidemic be unleashed intentionally? In this 1999 article from The American Prospect, Wendy Orent examines the history and politics of smallpox eradication. And she makes a persuasive case for why we should hang on to our small stockpile of the virus (which, in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control still possess).
Poking my head down, looking into the abyss of a four-story-tall, 20,000-liter fermenter, which was one of 10 there to produce anthrax for weapons, made me shudder. It made me wonder, what were they thinking? This was a big facility, [with] just an awesome capability to destroy life. In a mobilization period, it was going to produce and weaponize 300 metric tons of anthrax. What were they thinking?"