Re, Smallpox

Sat Aug 3 07:48:10 CDT 1996

You wrote:
>....Smallpox has decimated whole civilizations, for example, the
>Indians, the Aztecs, not to mention numerous other tribes of native
>Americans and other cultures that were at one time isolated from the
>organism. I susepect that the number of deaths attributed to smallpox
>far and away exceed those from other famous deseases including plague
>or nuclear weapons for that matter.
>The fight against smallpox is one of the greatest successes of medical
>science and the W.H.O.  We should completely erradicate this
>The same thing I can tell about man and Dodo bird, Tasmanian Tiger and
>animals decimated by man... what will be your answer if some
>ask you the same question about you...
>I still remember when I was in school thirty five years go how I have
>taught that wolf, shark and other bad animals has to be wipe out from
>earth... and how our science will be powerful to command winds and
>looks to me there is always someone who in the name of "something"
like to
>destroy or wipe of from earth some nations or animals.... From my
point of view
>it is easy to destroy something by some mentally retarded man,  but
built it
>back is often impossible..

It was not my intention to enter a debate on the pros and cons of
keeping deadly organisms extant or not, but there are moral issues here
that go far beyond preserving biodiversity.

These days our children are not being vaccinated against smallpox and
in fact, there are no longer stockpiles of the vaccine so that even if
you wanted to have your children immunized agains smallpox, you cannot.
 That is what happens when you destroy stocks of the agent--you need it
produce the vaccine.  Imagine a terrorist group getting hold of some
stocks of the virus, developing cultures, and then dropping a
biological weapon of the virus over Prague, Paris, London, or New York.
 Will you say the same thing when your children die a painful death?
Somehow, I don't have the same cuddly feeling about a deadly virus as I
do about our four legged friends.  Viruses are relatively simple life
forms (if they really are life forms) and it should be no problem to
preserve the genetic code and recreate it at some point in the future
if the specific gene sequences were to prove important in some line of
research.  But given the relative lack of immunity to smallpox in
individuals of about 20 yrs or younger in our population, we really
can't take the chance of the virus being accidentally or intentionally
released at some point in the future.  The result of such a terrorist
act would make recent bombings seem like childs play.

Jim Blake
(jablake at

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