Legal Responsibilities of the Government for Smallpox

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Vaccinating against smallpox stopped in 1972 in the United States.
Vaccinating against smallpox stopped in 1972 in the United States.

Widespread smallpox vaccinations ceased in America in 1972 and the World Health Organization confirmed the disease's eradication in 1980, following a worldwide campaign. Concerns arose in the U.S. that terrorists would use the smallpox virus as a biological weapon, following 9/11, and the government enacted several bills to ensure its responsibilities in a terrorism-related U.S. smallpox epidemic.

  1. About Smallpox

    • Smallpox is a highly contagious viral infection that often reaches epidemic proportions. The smallpox fatality rate is about 30 percent for otherwise healthy patients and survivors often exhibit extensive scarring. From the date of exposure, smallpox generally takes 12 to 14 days to incubate. Initial symptoms include a high temperature, headache and severe body ache, followed after a few days by a rash. Sufferers are contagious from the rash's onset and until all lesions scab over.

    Federal Government

    • The U.S. federal government's duties include preventing terrorist attacks, reducing vulnerability to terrorism, and minimizing damage from attacks and natural disasters, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2002 Homeland Security Bill and 2004 Project Bioshield legislation were enacted to protect people against chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks. One medical countermeasure against biological attacks is the development of a second generation smallpox vaccination, to be stockpiled and used in the event of a smallpox attack.

    National Stockpile

    • Project Bioshield made its first delivery of 1 million smallpox vaccines to the Strategic National Stockpile in July 2010. The Strategic National Stockpile is operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an emergency, stockpiled medicines and supplies will be delivered to the affected areas within 12 hours and administered for free to affected communities.

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  • Photo Credit syringe image by Rckhnd from Fotolia.com

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