Smallpox vaccine is no panacea against terrorism

    It seems that congratulations are in order to our government officials for discovering a vaccine to defend against the potentially devastating affects of a bioterrorism attack involving smallpox.

    Since smallpox is such a serious, highly contagious and often fatal disease, it is an ideal weapon to unleash on an unsuspecting and still vulnerable American public.

    Yet before I join in the enthusiastic applause of congratulations, I can’t help but question this supposed good fortune and fairy tale ending to such a nightmarish reality.

    Unfortunately, reading the Reuters and CNN coverage on this crucial event has only served to exasperate instead of resolve my concerns.

    An Oct. 4 Reuters wire report cites government officials’ fears that the smallpox developed and weaponized by the Soviets fell into dangerous hands after the USSR collapsed. Reuters reported that the government was deciding whether to preemptively vaccinate the entire population or just the medical and safety personnel in face of possible bioterrorist attack utilizing smallpox.

    An Oct. 7 CNN report, however, takes a stance on the debate and advises the government not to vaccinate all Americans due to the vaccination’s adverse side effects on children and those with weakened immune systems.

    But both media reports failed to address my fundamental question of concern: If it is true that the Soviets developed a weaponized form of smallpox, how then can our government blindly state that a 30-year-old vaccine can adequately safeguard the health and lives of 280 million Americans against a mutated or weaponized from of smallpox?

    Yes, the smallpox vaccine that was recently discovered in a warehouse and turned over to the government is not only 30 years old, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, the vaccine is derived from the New York City Board of Health strain of vaccinia virus.

    Can we really be so lucky that the weaponized form of smallpox developed in the Soviet Union is identical to the New York City strain? It’s highly doubtful.

    So how can the U.S. government herald this old New York strain vaccine as our salvation with this unanswered issue bearing down on us?

    It isn’t naivete on the part of the government. In all probability, it centers on the government’s reluctance to admit to the world that the United States’ position regarding smallpox is not impregnable. In light of the beating the United States took on Sept. 11, it becomes evident that this is a deliberate strategy meant to strengthen the image of the United States.

    The glossy half-truths concerning the all-saving powers of the current vaccine then serve a purpose — that of national security.

    However, this sweeping under the rug of any questions of the adequacy of the vaccine when pitted against a manufactured, mutated form of smallpox can cause immense harm.

    First, this propaganda push that is touting the vaccine wonder drug in an attempt to convince the American public not to fear the threat of smallpox will backfire badly.

    By deliberately lulling the American public into a false sense of security, America will once again be sleeping when the enemy attacks. What shameful, backward steps we have taken from the lessons learned post-Sept. 11.

    Second, any course of action proposed for the country under this sugar-coated mentality would be catastrophic.

    Before the CDC can adequately advise the president on a course of action in face of this bioterrorism weapon, we must address the question of the efficacy of the 30-year-old vaccine up against newly mutated and weaponized smallpox.

    Otherwise, the efforts in vaccinating the 10 million emergency workers — or potentially even all Americans — will be in vain if it cannot be established conclusively once and for all that the vaccine will protect against weaponized forms of smallpox.

    So how does the government achieve this end?

    Simple.

    If the United States hasn’t already gotten its hands on some of the Soviet-derived smallpox, that must be made the first priority so that a fool-proof vaccine can be created. If possible, diplomatic means should be used first to attain it. Then try bribery, giving the Russians lots of cash or incentives. If all fails, send in special forces to sneak into some lab or storage center to bring back the weaponized form.

    After the horrors of mistakes made by our intelligence community prior to Sept. 11 attacks, we cannot afford to be lax or complacent in this heightened state of alert.

    Rather than sounding the trumpet of success with this alleged miraculous vaccine, we should be sounding the trumpet of cautionary hope and continued vigilance.

    An up-front policy with regard to pubic safety is the only just policy in wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. I advise all government officials to deal the hand straight up where the vaccine for smallpox is concerned; otherwise, be prepared for the widespread fallout.

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