U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services Release: United States Pledges 20 Million Doses Of Smallpox Vaccine To Global Stockpile

PARIS, Dec. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson announced that the United States is pledging 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine to the global stockpile managed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The United States donation is by far the largest contribution to date to the global stockpile.

"The United States is proud to make a significant contribution to a global stockpile that will serve as a critical line of defense in the event of a smallpox attack anywhere in the world," Secretary Thompson said. "This is an important step toward ensuring the health and safety of the American people."

Secretary Thompson also thanked and congratulated the governments of Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom for their pledges to the stockpile.

At a 2003 Ministerial Meeting of the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI), the United States encouraged its international partners to develop the WHO Smallpox Vaccine Bank, which would consist of a physical stockpile in Geneva and a virtual global stockpile of pledged vaccine stocks from around the world. This vaccine stockpile could quickly dispatch vaccine to any country that might be experiencing an outbreak of smallpox.

Under the framework established by the WHO, governments or organizations can commit vaccine in their national stocks for the virtual global stockpile or provide vaccine or funds to the WHO Secretariat to purchase vaccine for the physical stockpile in Geneva.

The 20 million doses of vaccine pledged by the United States will physically remain in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, but will be available for the WHO to use in the event of an emergency. The global stockpile will be used only if at least one case of smallpox is confirmed in the human population.

The reemergence of smallpox in any country would constitute an international emergency and would pose a serious threat to the national security of the United States. Yet most countries, especially those in the developing world, have no smallpox vaccine and are not prepared to respond to an outbreak of smallpox. The WHO global stockpile addresses this vulnerability and ensures that the world is better prepared to deal with this threat.

Experts from U.S. agencies have worked with experts from the WHO and other countries on developing an operational framework for the WHO Smallpox Vaccine Bank, including establishing standards on vaccine potency, stability, and purity and addressing legal liability concerns. Further work remains in developing plans for vaccine delivery and distribution.

These efforts around the world complement the United States' ongoing efforts to prepare our homeland for a possible smallpox attack. Since 2001, the United States has dramatically improved its capacity to respond to this threat. In 2001, the U.S. had only 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine available in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile. Today, there are more than enough doses to vaccinate every person in America, if necessary. If there is a release of smallpox in the U.S., HHS will immediately make vaccine in the stockpile available to the general public.

Secretary Thompson reassured Americans that the U.S. pledge to the WHO does not compromise in any way America's ability to provide vaccines for its own citizens in the event of a smallpox outbreak.

"We have stockpiled more than enough smallpox vaccine for every man, woman, and child in America," Secretary Thompson said. "But in this age of global interconnectedness, we need to take extra steps to be prepared for threats around the world."

The last case of smallpox occurred in the United States in 1949, and the WHO declared the disease eradicated worldwide in 1980. Vaccinations to prevent smallpox have not been routinely administered in the United States since 1972.

Secretary Thompson made the smallpox announcement while meeting with foreign health ministers at the GHSI's Fifth Ministerial Meeting in Paris. This week's meetings also include discussions on improving preparedness for a possible global influenza pandemic.

Founded after September 11, 2001, at the urging of Secretary Thompson, the GHSI brings together the health ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the Health Commissioner of the European Union and the Director-General of the WHO. It was formed to promote collaboration in preparedness and response planning for public health emergences and potential bioterrorist attacks.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

CONTACT: HHS Press Office, +1-202-690-6343

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