News

USIS Washington 
File

29 April 1999

TEXT: CLINTON SEEKS DELAY IN DESTRUCTION OF SMALLPOX VIRUS

(Reports say virus needed for scientific research)  (530)

Washington -- President Clinton has called for delaying destruction of
the world's remaining stocks of the deadly smallpox virus so that
virus samples can be used for scientific research.

According to a White House statement issued April 22, the president's
decision follows the release of independent reports from the Institute
of Medicine that conclude the smallpox virus would be essential to the
development of new antiviral drugs against smallpox and novel vaccines
that could be used in AIDS patients.

The decision also reflects administration concern that officials
cannot be entirely certain that destroying the declared stocks of
smallpox virus will eliminate all the virus in existence.

"While we fervently hope smallpox would never be used as a weapon, we
have a responsibility to develop the drug and vaccine tools to deal
with any future contingency," the statement says.

The remaining known stocks of the virus are held in a high-security
facility at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta and at a Russian government laboratory in Siberia.

The United States will make its case for a delay in the destruction of
the virus at a debate on the issue scheduled to take place at the
World Health Assembly in Geneva beginning on May 17.

Smallpox, caused by the variola virus, was a major plague throughout
most of history until the disease was eradicated by a worldwide
vaccination campaign from 1966 to 1980.

Following is the text of the White House statement:

(begin text)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

April 22, 1999

STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY

President Clinton has decided to seek a delay in the destruction of
the declared stocks of smallpox virus. The two known supplies are
currently housed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta, and in Koltsovo, Russia. The debate on this issue will take
place in Geneva at the World Health Assembly, beginning May 17.

The President's decision is based on a consensus recommendation of his
advisors, reflecting agreement among all Departments. Two recent
independent reports from The Institute of Medicine at the National
Academy of Sciences concluded that smallpox virus would be essential
to the development of new antiviral drugs against smallpox and novel
vaccines that could be used in those with AIDS or those whose immune
systems are not working well. The results of these reports had a
significant impact on our decision-making process.

The decision also reflects our concern that we cannot be entirely
certain that after we destroy the declared stocks in Atlanta and
Koltsovo, we will eliminate all the smallpox virus in existence. While
we fervently hope smallpox would never be used as a weapon, we have a
responsibility to develop the drug and vaccine tools to deal with any
future contingency -- a research and development process that would
necessarily require smallpox virus.

In the end, we reached the conclusion we believe is most likely to
reduce the possibility of future loss of life as a result of smallpox.

(end text)