US pledges smallpox vaccine for world stockpile

Dec 10, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The United States is pledging 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine to a global stockpile managed by the World Health Organization (WHO), Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson announced today.

The vaccine will remain in the Strategic National Stockpile but will be available to the WHO for emergency use, according to an HHS news release. Thompson said last week that the United States has more than 400 million doses of smallpox vaccine as a result of a buildup since 2001, when the nation had only about 15 million doses.

Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom also have pledged vaccine for the stockpile, according to HHS, but the announcement did not list the amounts.

Thompson made his announcement at a Paris meeting with foreign health ministers participating in the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI). Founded after Sep 11, 2001, the group includes the health ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the European Union health commissioner and the WHO director-general.

The United States suggested establishing the WHO Smallpox Vaccine Bank in 2003, at a GHSI meeting, the HHS statement said. The proposal was for a physical stockpile in Geneva and a "virtual global stockpile of pledged vaccine stocks from around the world."

The global stockpile will be used only if at least one case of smallpox is confirmed. Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, but the United States and Russia maintain stocks of the virus for research purposes, and disease experts fear that samples may have fallen into the hands of terrorists at some point. The former Soviet Union made large quantities of the virus in its biological weapons programs.

Thompson said the US pledge to the global stockpile does not compromise the supply of vaccine for Americans. "We have stockpiled more than enough smallpox vaccine for every man, woman, and child in America," he said. "But in this age of global interconnectedness, we need to take extra steps to be prepared for threats around the world."

See also:

Dec 10 HHS news release

This week's top reads