Sunday, March 02, 2008


US agency destroys smallpox vaccine

March 2, 2008 - 12:23PM, Sun Herald

The US government has announced that it has said goodbye to one of the world's greatest lifesavers - the original smallpox vaccine.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention this month made arrangements to dispose of its 12 million doses of Dryvax, and notified other health departments and the military to do the same by February 29.

Dryvax - produced by scraping virus off the skin of infected calves - is being replaced in federal vaccine stockpiles by a more modern product manufactured in laboratories.

Dryvax was unusually dangerous for a vaccine, blamed in recent years for triggering heart attacks and a painful heart inflammation in some patients.

Still, attention should be paid on the occasion of its demise, said Dr William Schaffner, chairman of Vanderbilt University's department of preventive medicine.

It is a "historical moment, because it's our oldest vaccine," Schaffner said. "It was a vaccine that eliminated smallpox from the United States."

Smallpox is a deadly, infectious disease that plagued the world for centuries and killed nearly a third of the people it infected. Victims suffered scorching fever and body aches, then spots and blisters that would leave survivors with pitted scars.

Dryvax was created in the late 1800s, by the company that became Wyeth Laboratories. Wyeth was a primary US manufacturer of smallpox vaccine by the mid-1940s, and was the only company left making it by the early 1960s, said D.A. Henderson, a University of Pittsburgh vaccine expert who played a key role in international smallpox eradication efforts.

The United States was able to end routine childhood vaccination against the disease by the early 1970s. World health authorities declared the disease was eradicated from nature in 1980.

Wyeth stopped making the vaccine in the 1980s. But government officials kept a stockpile of about 15 million doses. The Dryvax came in handy in 2003, when it was used to help contain an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States.

© 2008 AP