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US to Stockpile Smallpox Vaccine - 2002-06-07

The U.S. federal government has just announced that, by the end of next year, it will stockpile enough smallpox vaccine to protect every U.S. citizen. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci was on hand at the New York Blood Center Thursday to discuss the implications of the plan. Dr. Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agrees that having the vaccines on hand is wise. But, he says, the decision to use them cannot be made lightly.

First and foremost, he says, vaccinating people is risky. A small percentage of people, perhaps between 20 and 25 per million vaccinated, will die because they will cantract the diseases from vacination. Furthermore, Dr. Fauci says, the panic generated by an outbreak of smallpox would likely wreak more havoc than the actual illness, as was the case with the anthrax cases late last year.

Bio-terrorism, he explained, should be looked at as part of a larger pattern of emerging and re-emerging diseases, and addressed accordingly. "I believe if we think of it in that context, we will have a sustainable capability for bio-defense and, in fact, the money that's invested in bio-defense against bio-terrorism might ultimately be a boon for our public health system," he said.

The knowledge that will come from trying to anticipate and prevent a biological attack, Dr. Fauci says, is "the good" that will come from the fear of bio-terrorism.

Nearly $1.8 billion of the $37.7 billion allotted to Homeland Security will go to addressing the threat of bio-terrorism. Dr. Fauci said the money will go into specific areas: research, increasing personnel, and the construction four new laboratories