The Smallpox Destruction Debate: Could a Grand Bargain Settle the Issue?

By Jonathan B. Tucker

One of the longest and most contentious international policy debates has swirled around the question of whether to destroy the last known stocks of the smallpox (variola) virus, which are preserved at two World Health Organization (WHO)-authorized repositories in Russia and the United States. Although smallpox was eradicated from nature more than three decades ago, concerns surfaced in the early 1990s that a few countries may have retained undeclared samples of the virus for biological warfare purposes. Because a smallpox outbreak would be a global public health emergency of major proportions, in 1999 the WHO approved a research program at the two authorized repositories to develop improved medical defenses against the disease.[1]

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