17 March 2000

Bioterrorism volunteers

by Kate Melville

In what may become to be a sign of where the 21st century is headed the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have asked the Saint Louis University School of Medicine Center for Vaccine Development to determine the safety and effectiveness of a smallpox vaccine.

While smallpox is officially eradicated (in 1980 according to the World Health Organization), concerns over bioterrorism have prompted this move which will start with researchers using some of the last remaining supply of the Dryvax vaccine. Dryvax is no longer produced.

The study is being paid for by the US National Institutes of Health, that is coincidentally also funding the establishment of the Center for Research and Bioterrorism at Saint Louis University (where the vaccine research also just happens to be taking place).

The lead investigator Dr. Sharon Frey, is Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Saint Louis University. Her work includes a trial of diluted doses of Dryvax. Of the volunteers enrolled in the study, 33.3% will receive the vaccine diluted 10 times, another 33.3% will receive the vaccine that has been diluted 100 times, with the final third receiving a full undiluted dose.

If you are completely insane you can apply to be one of 60 volunteers to take part in these tests but the list of criteria is fairly strict:

Approximately 60 volunteers will be recruited in the St. Louis area. The requirements for inclusion in the study are:

� 18-30 years of age, in good health, no chronic illness and no history of serious allergic reactions

� no history of smallpox vaccination or infection

� no problems with your immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer treatment and steroid medications)

� no contact with anyone that is pregnant, less than 12 months of age, has eczema or has problems with his/her immune system.

According to Dr. Frey, "Because of the recent concerns of terrorism throughout the world, the United States government is making efforts to improve its ability to protect its citizens in the event of an attack. Being able to dilute the vaccine would potentially increase the available stock by 10 to 100 fold."

While this may comfort some of the populace, it probably promotes a false sense of security given that most intelligence analyist's agree that we need not worry about if a bioterrorist incident will occur, but rather where and how soon!