- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

The release of smallpox or anthrax in a terrorist attack against the United States is "entirely possible," and the smallpox vaccinations millions of Americans received as children would offer no protection, a bioterrorism specialist said yesterday.
"If this did happen, it could be really very serious, indeed. And I think, at this time, we have no choice but to be prepared to respond quickly, should such a release occur," said Dr. Donald A. Henderson, professor of epidemiology and director of Civilian Biodefense Studies at the John Hopkins School of Public Health.
Dr. Henderson made his comments yesterday on a CNN special, "Target: Terrorism," a day after a 63-year-old Florida man died of an extremely rare form of inhaled anthrax. He said it is a "fair judgment" this was a single case unrelated to terrorism.
"We do have occasional cases of anthrax in this country that occur usually as a result of contact with animals," he said.
Smallpox is caused by a virus and anthrax by a bacterium. Both micro-organisms could be converted into weapons of mass destruction by terrorists.
Florida health officials said no other anthrax cases have been reported in the area. What's more, they said, the victim's anthrax responded to penicillin, suggesting he acquired his disease naturally. They said anthrax developed as a biological weapon could be resistant to the antibiotic.
Anthrax, unlike smallpox, cannot be passed from one person to another.
Bioterrorism specialists agree that the highly contagious smallpox virus which kills up to a third of those it infects is the most dangerous bioterrorism agent known to man.
"I wish I could tell you that we would be confident that we would not have a smallpox outbreak. But the fact is, we cannot provide that assurance at all," Dr. Henderson said.
He said the former Soviet Union "actually developed smallpox as a weapon from 1980 onwards. They had manufacturing facilities that could produce as much as 80 [tons] to 100 tons of smallpox in a single year.
"In the course of this," Dr. Henderson said, "they trained a lot of people in how to produce the smallpox virus. We know that the virus is in several places in Russia. The question is, has this gone to other countries? It's hard to answer that question. But we know many of the scientists that were involved have gone to other countries."
The two places where the smallpox virus is known to exist are laboratories at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and in Koltsovo, Russia. In the early 1980s, the World Health Organization called on countries to either destroy any smallpox virus samples in their possession or to ship them to those two laboratories. It is not certain everyone complied.
As for the smallpox vaccinations many Americans received until 1972 as a requirement for school attendance, Dr. Henderson said they're probably useless.
The reinstitution of mass smallpox vaccination has been examined but rejected by panels of specialists who determined the risk of reactions to the vaccine were greater than its benefits. One in 300,000 persons who received it suffered "serious reactions" that included death and "permanent neurologic disability."
However, he conceded that conclusion may not be fixed in stone. "If we found somebody walking through [Chicagos] O'Hare Airport next week carrying live smallpox virus, we might change our minds very quickly."
The official U.S. government position on this issue may already have changed. Last week, the Pentagon ordered Acambis PLC, a pharmaceutical firm in Massachusetts, to accelerate production of 40 million doses of the smallpox vaccine.
In a report published Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told the Boston Globe the "ultimate plan" is to have Acambis manufacture enough vaccine to immunize all 281 million people in the United States. Acambis is the only company in the world licensed to make the smallpox vaccine.
This report is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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