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The World in Medicine
July 20, 2011

Smallpox Debate

JAMA. 2011;306(3):257. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.963

Representatives meeting at the 64th World Health Assembly in Geneva have postponed the decision to destroy the remaining stocks of smallpox (variola) virus until 2014.

Smallpox immunization was stopped in 1980 when the disease was declared to be eradicated. Only 2 acknowledged variola virus inventories remain, in the United States and Russia. Both countries have lobbied along with others to preserve the live samples. Research has been ongoing since the 1990s to improve diagnostics and to develop new drugs and vaccines against variola to protect from future outbreaks due to bioterrorism or unknown pockets of remaining disease. While much progress has been made, more research is needed, they argue. However, some countries oppose this view and feel the world is safer without the virus stocks.