What a huge insurance policy for Americans! That is how Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson describes the decision by Pennsylvania-based Aventis Pasteur to donate nearly 85 million doses of smallpox vaccine. Apparently Aventis had the shots leftover since 1972, when the nation quit routine smallpox vaccinations.
"This supply is going to bolster our emergency smallpox stockpile, provide an extra layer of protection for all Americans should a smallpox outbreak occur, it strengthens our safety net in the event of a biological attack," said Tommy Thompson.
"It was unimportant until the events of last fall. It was produced approximately 40 years ago, and it's been frozen at minus 20 degrees centigrade since that time," said Dick Markham CEO of Aventis Pasteur.
The donation comes at the same time a government study shows the existing supply could be stretched to cover more people. Health officials say because the vaccine is not without risk, there are no plans to vaccinate unless an attack does happen.
If the donated doses prove to be effective, officials say the U.S. could have enough vaccine to cover every American if needed be by the end of the year. Officials also say a smallpox vaccine can be given up to four days after exposure and still offer protection.