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Last Updated

26 Dec 2002

Source: Associated Press, December 25, 2002.

Israeli Public Won't Get Smallpox Vaccine

By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM (AP) Israel's Health Ministry decided Wednesday not to vaccinate the public against smallpox, citing security services' determination that there is no strong threat of an Iraqi biological attack now.

Israel has vaccinated about 15,000 health and rescue personnel against smallpox in recent weeks because of the growing threat of war between the United States and Iraq.

There are fears a U.S. attack would lead Saddam Hussein's regime to strike at Israel, possibly with biological or chemical weapons. The Iraqis fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, but none carried chemical or biological warheads.

However, after consultations with Israeli and American security officials, the Health Ministry concluded Iraq probably does not have both the smallpox virus and the capability to use it in an attack on Israel, director Boaz Lev said Wednesday.

"In all the models we built and checked, the possibility of a strike ... if there any such possibility at all, is very low,'' Lev said.

Despite the decision, the ministry will complete a plan for handling a public vaccination in case the situation changes, spokesman Ido Hadari said. He said an outbreak of smallpox somewhere in the world or new security findings about Iraq's capabilities would prompt a reconsideration.

Officials say Israel has enough smallpox vaccine for the entire population of 6.6 million.

Smallpox, once one of the most feared epidemic diseases in the world, killed hundreds of millions of people over the centuries before an international vaccination campaign ended outbreaks. The last case was reported in 1977.