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PARIS -- U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson announced that the United States is pledging 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine to the global stockpile managed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The United States donation is by far the largest contribution to date to the global stockpile.
"The United States is proud to make a significant contribution to a global
stockpile that will serve as a critical line of defense in the event of a
smallpox attack anywhere in the world," Secretary Thompson said. "This is an
important step toward ensuring the health and safety of the American people."
Thompson also thanked and congratulated the governments of
Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom for their pledges to the
At a 2003 Ministerial Meeting of the Global Health Security Initiative
(GHSI), the United States encouraged its international partners to develop the
WHO Smallpox Vaccine Bank, which would consist of a physical stockpile in
Geneva and a virtual global stockpile of pledged vaccine stocks from around
the world. This vaccine stockpile could quickly dispatch vaccine to any
country that might be experiencing an outbreak of smallpox.
Under the framework established by the WHO, governments or organizations
can commit vaccine in their national stocks for the virtual global stockpile
or provide vaccine or funds to the WHO Secretariat to purchase vaccine for the
physical stockpile in Geneva.
The 20 million doses of vaccine pledged by the United States will
physically remain in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, but will be
available for the WHO to use in the event of an emergency. The global
stockpile will be used only if at least one case of smallpox is confirmed in
the human population.
The reemergence of smallpox in any country would constitute an
international emergency and would pose a serious threat to the national
security of the United States. Yet most countries, especially those in the
developing world, have no smallpox vaccine and are not prepared to respond to
an outbreak of smallpox. The WHO global stockpile addresses this
vulnerability and ensures that the world is better prepared to deal with this
Experts from U.S. agencies have worked with experts from the WHO and other
countries on developing an operational framework for the WHO Smallpox Vaccine
Bank, including establishing standards on vaccine potency, stability, and
purity and addressing legal liability concerns. Further work remains in
developing plans for vaccine delivery and distribution.
These efforts around the world complement the United States' ongoing
efforts to prepare our homeland for a possible smallpox attack. Since 2001,
the United States has dramatically improved its capacity to respond to this
threat. In 2001, the U.S. had only 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine
available in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile. Today, there are more
than enough doses to vaccinate every person in America, if necessary. If
there is a release of smallpox in the U.S., HHS will immediately make vaccine
in the stockpile available to the general public.
Thompson reassured Americans that the U.S. pledge to the WHO
does not compromise in any way America's ability to provide vaccines for its
own citizens in the event of a smallpox outbreak.
"We have stockpiled more than enough smallpox vaccine for every man,
woman, and child in America," Thompson said. "But in this age of
global interconnectedness, we need to take extra steps to be prepared for
threats around the world."
The last case of smallpox occurred in the United States in 1949, and the
WHO declared the disease eradicated worldwide in 1980. Vaccinations to
prevent smallpox have not been routinely administered in the United States
Thompson made the smallpox announcement while meeting with
foreign health ministers at the GHSI's Fifth Ministerial Meeting in Paris.
This week's meetings also include discussions on improving preparedness for a
possible global influenza pandemic.
Founded after Sept. 11, 2001, at the urging of Thompson, the
GHSI brings together the health ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy,
Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the Health
Commissioner of the European Union and the Director-General of the WHO. It
was formed to promote collaboration in preparedness and response planning for
public health emergences and potential bioterrorist attacks.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services