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Health Insight August 2002: UK government defends smallpox vaccine decision

  As reported in last monthís Health Insight it was alleged that the UK government had bought the wrong vaccine to protect the country from the threat of a smallpox attack by terrorists. Millions of doses of a smallpox vaccine, based on what is known as the Lister strain of the disease, were bought at a cost of £32 million. The New York City Board of Health, however, had developed a different strain of the vaccine. Stephen Prior, of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in the US, claimed that the British vaccine was inferior. He looked at which vaccines were used where, and with what success, during the eradication programmes of the 1960s and 1970s. However, D A Henderson of Johns Hopkins University, who led the smallpox eradication drive and is the USís chief smallpox adviser, rejects Stephen Priorís claims, saying that the Lister strain was used successfully to eliminate the virus in countries where smallpox was still circulating. ĎThe Lister strain, so far as we could tell, was fully as protective as the New York City Board of Health strain,í he said. The main concern now this argument has been settled seems to be whether Britain will have enough vaccine to contain an outbreak, as the government wonít disclose how many doses it has ordered.

Source: New Scientist 10th August, BBC Online

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