Smallpox is one of the most deadly and dangerous diseases affecting the human population across the world. The first recorded epidemic was in 1350 BC during the Egyptian-Hittite war, and it was quite prevalent in the late 1800’s through a large part of the 1900’s. Approximately five hundred million people were infected with the disease prior to its eradication in the 1970’s, with the last case being in Somalia in 1977. Symptoms of infection included excessive bleeding, high fever, delirium, vomiting, and a raised pink rash. Most cases of smallpox ended in death and survivors were often seriously maimed by pock marks, blindness, or infertility. The pain and suffering remained for a lifetime after the disease was gone.
There is no known cure for smallpox, only preventative vaccinations. Because smallpox was wiped out in 1970′s, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) recommended that all countries stop vaccinating for the disease in 1980. This means that today, most young people are not vaccinated against the disease. Because the disease is considered eradicated, the issue of what to do with the remaining government-held vaccines has been an issue of debate. Should the stored vaccines be destroyed since the disease is no longer a concern, or do we keep them in storage for research or in case of an unexpected outbreak? Experts at the Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and the World Health Organization have spent an enormous amount of time researching this issue and have given much educated thought to the matter. Reportedly the W.H.O. wants to destroy all vaccines, however some scientists at the CDC feel the destruction could do more harm than good.
The issue of bioterrorism adds another layer of complexity to the issue. In the case of smallpox, just a small amount of the virus released in the air could infect thousands of people in 6-24 hours. If such a disease were used as a weapon, we would obviously want the vaccine available for use. However, the fact that the vaccine still exists allows the use of smallpox for bioterrorism in the first place. If we could be sure all of the vaccine was destroyed, the decision may be a bit easier. But what if the vaccine were only partially destroyed, and the remainder was used by an unfriendly nation?
In this world of global unrest and increasing technology, bioterrorism will come an increasing concern. The smallpox virus could be a serious threat to world health should any nation engage in the act if bioterrorism against an enemy. The question remains: do we run the risk of bioterrorism by continuing to store the medicine for several hundred smallpox vaccinations or do we destroy the vaccine and pray that there is no outbreak of the deadly virus? Because it is unknown at this time if researchers are able to re-create the vaccine, either solution may have permanent consequences.