G7, MEXICO SAY PREPARING FOR SMALLPOX TERROR ATTACK



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Last Updated

06 Dec 2002

Source: Reuters, December 6, 2002.

G7, Mexico Say Preparing for Smallpox Terror Attack

By Richard Jacobsen

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The world's leading industrial nations are expanding the global stockpile of smallpox vaccine to prepare for a possible terrorist attack using the deadly virus, health officials said on Friday.

Senior health officials from the Group of Seven nations and Mexico, which shares a long, porous border with the United States, said there was no imminent threat of a terrorist attack using the smallpox virus.

However, they said their countries would work to increase the World Health Organization's global reserve of the smallpox vaccine, as well as take steps to prepare to respond to any attack using the virus.

While it is impossible to insure there will be no smallpox attacks, "we can be better prepared to be able to respond for all of our citizens," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a news conference.

Smallpox was eradicated in 1978 and the United States stopped vaccinating in 1972.

But concerns about a possible attack have resurfaced because Iraq and North Korea are thought to have stocks of the virus, which kills about a third of those infected and causes oozing pustules that leave scars on the surviving victims.

The so-called Ministerial Meeting on Health Security and Bioterrorism held this week in Mexico City was the third of its kind since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

VACCINATION IS COMPLEX

Thompson said the United States already has enough of the smallpox vaccine to inoculate every man, woman and child in the country and the Bush administration was in the process of determining how it would be administered.

He said, most likely, health workers would receive the vaccine first, followed by "first responders" such as police and fire fighters, and then the general population.

But he noted widespread vaccination was a "very complex subject" because one or two out of every million people vaccinated die from the inoculation, and another 15 to 18 out of every million have serious adverse reactions. "This is not a vaccine without consequences," Thompson said

The health officials said their countries would hold a multinational exercise in June to evaluate response plans and protocols for international aid and collaboration in case of a smallpox attack.

Governments were preparing for a worst-case scenario, but not trying to instill panic, the health officials said.

"We don't want to alarm our people," British Health Secretary Alan Milburn said. "We don't want to bring to a halt normal public life for our civic society. And yet we'd be failing in our obligation if we didn't prepare for the worst."

Britain said this week it plans to vaccinate key military and health service workers against smallpox.