WHO seeks greater vaccine stockpile to combat bioterrorism

The World Health Organization is seeking to expand its 2.5 million dose stockpile of smallpox vaccines as part of precautions against a biological terrorism attack, a senior official said Wednesday.

"We need stockpiles of vaccines. We need stockpiles of those essential medications," Brad Kay, coordinator of the WHO's division on preparedness for accidental and deliberate epidemics, said on the sidelines of an Interpol conference. Smallpox is one of six highly lethal "Category A" diseases that public health experts believe could be used as a biological weapon. Others include anthrax, tularemia, botulism, or viruses like Ebola.

Kay told reporters that the WHO is involved in "much discussion about greatly expanding" its access to smallpox vaccines through a so-called virtual stockpile, which entails keeping tabs on stocks around the world that could be called on if the need arises. In the event of an emergency, Kay said: "The small amount that the WHO has is not going to go far." Kay also stressed the importance of hospitals, scientists and public health agencies pooling information on an international level, which could help manage both a natural outbreak or a terror attack.

"We don't know what people are going to cook up," Kay said, "but we know preparedness in recognizing diseases, being able to treat them and being able to amass public health practitioners are key to effective control in whatever scenario we're facing." At the Interpol conference in the southeastern city of Lyon, officials warned that the world's police are ill-equipped to handle an "urgent" bioterrorism threat. The conference, devoted to bioterrorism, ends Wednesday. It was billed as the largest meeting of police ever, assembling more than 500 crime fighters and counterterrorism officials from 155 countries. Closed-door talks focused on how to better prevent and prepare for threats and training police to handle them.

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