- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered 16 million doses of smallpox vaccine after Vice President Richard B. Cheney visited last month and warned about the threat of an attack by Iraq.
In a short stopover March 12 on his way to the Middle East, Mr. Cheney met with Mr. Blair for several hours at the prime minister's 10 Downing Street office. The vice president detailed reports from intelligence sources that said the United States and Britain would be the prime targets of a biological terrorism attack.
Just two days after the pair met, health ministers from Britain, Japan, Mexico, France, Germany and the United States met in London to trade intelligence on vaccine stocks and methods of responding to a bioterrorism attack, the London Daily Telegraph reported yesterday.
Three weeks later, the British government placed a $46 million order for 16 million smallpox vaccines with a British company, PowderJect of Oxford.
A senior administration official, who yesterday confirmed the Telegraph report, said the warning was not based on new information.
Instead, the official said, the vice president was merely passing on intelligence that Britain would be among the top targets.
U.S. security reports say Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would use all weapons including chemical and biological arms if attacked. Earlier this month, President Bush and Mr. Blair discussed options for handling Iraq, which has become increasingly belligerent.
While both leaders, who met for a weekend at Mr. Bush's Texas ranch, say there are no imminent plans to attack Iraq, each has said Saddam is a threat that cannot be ignored.
"This guy, Saddam Hussein, is a leader who gasses his own people, goes after people in his own neighborhood with weapons of chemical weapons," the president said.
Mr. Blair was equally adamant. "The president is right to draw attention to the threat of weapons of mass destruction. That threat is real. That the threat exists and we have to deal with it, that seems to me a matter of plain common sense."
The last naturally occurring case of smallpox in the world was in 1977, but Iraq is believed to have developed stocks of the smallpox virus during the 1980s, using smallpox from an outbreak in the mid-1970s.
The only known remaining stocks of virus are in two laboratories, one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the other in Russia.
Bioterrorism experts fear that some of the Russian stockpile may have fallen into the hands of rogue scientists in nations like Russia, Iraq and North Korea.
Talk of weapons loaded with smallpox, a highly contagious disease fatal to about one in three persons, dissipated in the aftermath of anthrax attacks across the United States. Since then, however, Iraq was caught attempting to ship arms to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Intelligence sources think that if attacked, Saddam would unleash attackers armed with smallpox in the United States and Britain.
Smallpox causes pustules over the entire body, kills about 30 percent of its victims and disfigures survivors. Furthermore, because its sufferers often take 10 days to show symptoms, the disease can spread quickly over large areas, including other countries.
The United States has made dramatic steps to increase its stockpile of 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine. The government has ordered another 209 million doses from Acambis, a British pharmaceutical company. About 150 million of those doses were not due until 2004, but all will be delivered by the end of the year.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide