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Last Updated

03 Jan 2003

Source: The Australian, January 4, 2003

'Be ready' for attack

By Phillipa Bourke

THE top biological terror expert in the US has warned Australians may have to better prepare for such an attack. Director of the US National Institute of Infectious Allergy and Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, said a terrorist on a suicide mission could just as likely be armed with smallpox as a bomb and the impact on Australia from such an attack might only be as far away as an overseas tour group.

Dr Fauci was commenting on plans by the US Government to provide a smallpox vaccination for any citizen who wants one. Australia will soon have to make a difficult decision on how to deal with the threat of smallpox, and may have to take similar action, Mr Fauci said.

The risks for smallpox vaccination are one-to-two deaths per million people vaccinated. "Australia has to make their own decision," Dr Fauci, among US President George W Bush's smallpox policy advisers, said.

"They have to make that decision based on their assessment of what the threat to them is. "Either from a direct attack on Australia or from an attack for example in the Middle East and then people travel back and forth to Australia."

Dr Fauci said his advice was that ordinary people should not get vaccinated against smallpox. But he said a group of healthcare workers, smallpox response teams and first responders like firefighters and policemen should be vaccinated. "If nobody's vaccinated and then there's a massive attack the people who are going to go in and try and put the fire out are going to be susceptible themselves," he said.

Professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California Dr Thomas Mack, a veteran of the 1960s smallpox wars in South Asia, has argued that today's media-drenched society would give a community ample warning of an outbreak and good opportunity to contain its secondary spread. "I would be against getting a vaccination policy of healthy Australians," he said.

Meanwhile, the growing terrorism threat has led Britain's biggest home insurer to specifically exclude cover for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks, a London newspaper reported.

"After September 11 we felt it was necessary for our customers to understand what they are covered for," Norwich Union spokesman David Ross told The Independent newspaper. "People are worried about the chemical, biological and nuclear threats and wanted to know where they stood with our policies."

In an unprecedented move, renewal documents sent to householders by Norwich Union since January 1 warned that their home and contents policies would not entitle them to compensation for damage caused by such attacks, the paper said.