Well That’s Just Great! CDC Workers Find Mysterious Smallpox Vials in Pennsylvania Storage Freezer
20:08 GMT 17.11.2021 (Updated: 12:21 GMT 14.02.2023)
US health officials are rushing to make sense of a startling discovery in a Philadelphia suburb on Tuesday: more than a dozen vials labeled “smallpox” and a close relative of the virus, “vaccinia.” The deadly virus was eradicated in the 20th century after killing more than 300 million people.
Leadership at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received a nightmare message on Tuesday night alerting them that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had uncovered 15 vials in a storage freezer in eastern Pennsylvania: five were labeled “smallpox” and 10 were labeled “vaccinia,” according to Yahoo News, which viewed the alert.
The discovery prompted a lockdown of the facility, which is owned by pharmaceutical giant Merck and is located in North Wales, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, local news reported.
"There is no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials," the CDC told CNN in a statement.
"The frozen vials labeled 'Smallpox' were incidentally discovered by a laboratory worker while cleaning out a freezer in a facility that conducts vaccine research in Pennsylvania. CDC, its Administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the vials' contents appear intact," the federal health agency added. "The laboratory worker who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask. We will provide further details as they are available."
A Plague From the Past
Smallpox, also called variola, is one of the deadliest epidemic diseases known to man. The virus, which spreads either by inhaling infected droplets or by handling infected materials, kills up to 30% of the people who get it. Those who live often bear scars across their bodies caused by the pus-filled bubbles that grow on the skin, and many can also suffer blindness.
© AP PhotoIn this April 14, 1947 file photo, a long line winds toward the entrance to Morrisania Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York, where doctors are inoculating against smallpox.
In this April 14, 1947 file photo, a long line winds toward the entrance to Morrisania Hospital in the Bronx borough of New York, where doctors are inoculating against smallpox.
© AP Photo
In the 20th century alone, smallpox epidemics are claimed to have killed at least 300 million people. However, due to its virulence, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a worldwide vaccination campaign that totally eradicated smallpox by 1980.
The other virus, vaccinia, is where the word “vaccine” comes from: British physician Edward Jenner helped develop the modern form of inoculation in the 18th century by popularizing the purposeful infection of people with vaccinia virus, which is much weaker than smallpox, because it also gave people immunity to smallpox. However, modern vaccines use dead viral pieces.
Today, only a tiny amount of live smallpox virus exists, stored in US and Russian biolabs - partly to study for vaccine research, but mostly because neither country totally trusts that the other won’t try to turn smallpox into a bioweapon, as they did in the 20th century.
Gates Wants ‘Tens of Billions’ Put into Smallpox Research
Bizarrely, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was speaking earlier this month about the danger posed by a smallpox bioweapon, calling for the WHO to create a special task force to carry out “germ games,” analogous to “war games,” to rehearse how a future epidemic outbreak might unfold.
Gates also said the US and UK need to pour “tens of billions” of dollars into research on preventing future pandemics, which would also have a lot of other beneficial effects along the way.
“The nice thing is a lot of the R&D we need to do to be ready for the next pandemic are things like making vaccines cheap, having big factories, eradicating the flu, getting rid of the common cold, making vaccines just a little patch you put on your arm, things that will be incredibly beneficial even in the years when we don't have pandemics,” he told Jeremy Hunt, chair of the UK’s Health and Social Care Select Committee, on November 4.
“I'm hoping in five years, I can write a book called, ‘We are ready for the next pandemic’, but it'll take tens of billions in R&D - the US and the UK will be part of that,” Gates added.
However, the connection is more than passing: Gates has invested substantial amounts of money into pharmaceutical giants like Merck, which owns the Pennsylvania facility where the smallpox and vaccinia vials were found. The facility is used for vaccine research.
Way back in 2002, Gates’ eponymous foundation dumped more than $200 million into Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck’s then-CEO, Raymond Gilmartin, sat on Microsoft’s board for a decade before leaving in 2012. During that time, Gates worked closely with Merck on funding and distributing HIV drugs in Africa. The latest investment, this past June, put $122 million towards phase 3 testing of islatrivir, a once-a-month pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP) HIV drug developed by Merck.
© AP Photo / Samuel HabtabBill Gates, chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attends the "Africa Leadership Meeting - Investing in Health Outcomes" held at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.
Bill Gates, chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attends the "Africa Leadership Meeting - Investing in Health Outcomes" held at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.
© AP Photo / Samuel Habtab
Just last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave Merck a $120 million injection to distribute molnupiravir, its SARS-CoV-2 antiviral drug that’s in the final stages of testing
Without a doubt, such medicine is of enormous benefit to mankind. However, Gates has made clear that these payouts aren’t simply generosity: they’re investments from which he expects to profit.
Speaking to the UK’s Sky News this past April, Gates flatly rejected the increasingly popular notion of waiving intellectual property laws so that vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could be manufactured cheaply en masse by Third World nations.
That effort, championed by South Africa, India and dozens of poorer nations, was staunchly opposed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an industry lobbying group that counts Merck and Johnson & Johnson among its members. It also includes Pfizer, which has based its future business model off of COVID-19 becoming endemic and billions of people requiring annual vaccine booster shots.
As a result, while roughly half of humanity has been vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, most of those shots have been administered in wealthy and middle-income nations, where 70-80% of the population has been vaccinated, while in more than 50 of the poorest countries, less than 10% of their populations have been vaccinated. That is in large part due to their need to wait for vaccines donated to the COVAX program to arrive. COVAX is administered by the WHO and by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the latter of which Gates has invested billions in.