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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 09:59 GMT
US prepares for smallpox attack
US decontamination team
Anthrax has heightened fears of futher attacks
The US Government is making plans to stockpile enough doses of smallpox vaccine to protect every American citizen against the disease.

Concerns about bioterrorism in the wake of the terror attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September have prompted the American government to plan for a potential attack.

A $428 million contract has already been allocated to British company Acambis Inc to produce 155 million doses of the smallpox vaccine.

'Low risk'

The government plans to obtain 286 million doses by the end of 2002 which would protect every American from the disease.

Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary, said: "While the probability of an intentional release of the smallpox virus is low, the risk does exist and we must be prepared."

Smallpox was officially eradicated in 1980 and the US stopped routine vaccinations against the disease in 1972 - therefore anyone born since then is technically at risk.

The deadly virus is highly contagious and will kill one out of every three people who contract it.

Clandestine supplies

The discovery of anthrax-laced letters sent to politicians and media personalities has increased fears of a smallpox attack.

Although the only known samples of the virus are in tightly-guarded laboratories in the United States and Russia, officials fear there may be clandestine supplies in existence.

Current supplies of the vaccine in the US number just 15.4 million but the Office of Public health Preparedness has ensured an interim plan has been made in case of an early outbreak.

The BBC's Richard Black
"The new vaccine will be different from existing versions"
See also:

05 May 00 | Health
Twenty years free of smallpox
04 Nov 01 | Americas
Smallpox fears after anthrax
01 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax kills fourth American
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