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Last Updated

18 Oct 2002

Source:  The Hoya (Georgetown University newspaper),  October 18, 2002.

Fauci Addresses Bioterrorism Threats

By Tom Wigg, Special to The Hoya

Director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases Anthony S. Fauci addressed a group of medical professionals about the potential dangers of bioterrorism on Friday in the ICC Auditorium. This was the 12th annual Joseph B. Brennan Lecture, which is sponsored every year by the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University.

Fauci, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., received his medical degree from Cornell Medical College in 1966. He was appointed director of the NIAID in 1984 and oversees an extensive research portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, smallpox and anthrax.

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean David W. Lightfoot introduced Fauci as someone who not only examines and evaluates scientific research, but also questions how the government will ethically use this information.

Fauci explained that since the anthrax attacks in 2001, NIAID has markedly expanded, intensified and accelerated its ongoing research programs in biodefense. "Events of 2001 have had an impact not only on the nation but on the biomedical field which is now concerned with emerging diseases and defense," Fauci said.

He then discussed the anthrax scare specifically as being minor in terms of health effects but major in a broader sense. "Eighteen cases and five deaths associated with anthrax has led to a total transformation in what the biomedical community would have to deal with. The anthrax scare has resulted in a situation unprecedented Ö and would be a new challenge for American medicine," Fauci said.

Fauci discussed the possible threat of a resurgence of the smallpox disease, whose earliest victim was Pharaoh Ramses V in 1157 B.C., he said. The vaccine was first used in 1796 and the last case found in the United States was in the same year. In 1949, United States doctors stopped giving the vaccine because it killed over 500 people. In 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated and told all laboratories to destroy their samples. Fauci explained that although WHO gave this instruction, at least two samples of smallpox still exist.

He indicated that smallpox is a possible weapon that could be used against the U. S. in the event of bioterrorism, which means that the vaccine may be needed again. Today, the NIAID has diluted their supply of 15 million small pox vaccine doses to make 77 million, which are still as effective as the original dosage. In addition, with new contracts, the NIAID will soon have over 400 million doses.

Fauci also raised ethical questions concerning the distribution of vaccines. Fifteen out of every million people encounter deadly effects as result of the smallpox vaccine. Fauci asked how the government plans to make sure the public understands what it is getting. He also asked how the government would decide to make it mandatory if not enough people decided to get the vaccine voluntarily.

Fauci then discussed the Bush administrationís decision to place $37.7 billion into the 2003 Homeland Security Budget with 16 percent of that allocated for biological defense.

The budget increase would allow NIAID to expand its research agenda, the genomic sequencing of potential bioterror agents and developing animal models.

A year from now, NIAID is expected to have new vaccinations and treatments rather than just new research.

The Brennan Lecture series, established with gifts from the Brennan family and the law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, honors a three-generation relationship between the Brennans and Georgetown University.