NBC Weapons: August 30, 2002


: On 22 August, the German internet publication Spiegel Online noted that the Bundeswehr was ordering a million doses of smallpox vaccine, but that the Defense Ministry claims the delivery deadline for the first batch is unconnected to any possible US military campaign against Iraq. The Federal Defense Ministry, the Federal Ministry for the Interior and the Federal Ministry for Health claim to have been considering initiating protective measures against the smallpox pathogen since spring 2000. The terror attacks of 11 September merely "intensified" the Federal Government's efforts.

However, the wording of call for tenders has urgent tones: "It is imperative that the above-mentioned delivery deadlines be maintained". Bids to supply 500,000 doses of smallpox serum by a "deadline of November 2002" and a further 500,000 doses by February 2003.

The doses currently ordered by the BWB are sufficient to protect the entire German armed forces against smallpox, around 338,000 troops, as well as around 140,000 civilian employees). However, sufficient vaccine for the Federal Republic's entire population of around 80 million people would cost $420 million. In November 2001, the Health Ministry purchased six million doses of vaccine in Switzerland for around $60 million, so as to be able to provide at least a small proportion of the civilian population can currently be protected against the smallpox virus.

Israel's Cabinet decided on the 21st to inoculate 15,000 security and rescue officials against smallpox. This is part of Israel's overall preparation for a possible US attack on Iraq which could trigger an Iraqi WMD strike against Israel. A few hundred Health Ministry workers have already been inoculated. 

Israel's Health Ministry recently announced it had produced enough smallpox vaccine for the entire 6.6 million population, with enough left over to inoculate tourists and about 300,000 foreign workers. If the United States attacks Iraq, the Health Ministry said it would begin inoculating the entire population (which would take a week).

American officials are taking a different tack. The current plan (used to eradicate smallpox more than 20 years ago) is called "ring vaccination," were ever-widening circles of immunity are put in place to contain the infection. Current US supplies include 15.4 million doses of powdered Dryvax vaccine (made before 1982 by Wyeth) and about 80 million doses of liquid frozen vaccine (produced in the 1960s and recently donated to the government by Aventis Pasteur). 

Based on recent computer models designed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers, many are concluding that a terrorist's smallpox attack need not produce an uncontrollable health crisis. Computer simulations show that the proper combination of post-attack vaccination, quarantine, and other public health measures could stop any smallpox breakout. 

Meanwhile, studies are underway to test a new vaccine being made as fast as possible under a contract with the U.S. government. FDA approval of vaccine isn't likely until the end of 2003, and procedures for large-scale vaccination in the half-million range or higher aren't in place at this point. Arkansas' Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Tim Hutchinson announced the formation of a task force on 12 June, to spearhead efforts to locate a national vaccine production facility at the Pine Bluff Arsenal. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers analysis concluded in 1994 that the Pine Bluff Arsenal was the most cost-effective site for a manufacturing facility. The estimated construction cost at the time was more than $200 million. - Adam Geibel


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