WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland today
stated that she has asked the WHO Smallpox Advisory Group to review
guidelines on smallpox vaccination in light of the current concern
that populations might be deliberately infected with the smallpox
During the last few days WHO has received several
enquiries about the usefulness of mass vaccination to protect people
against the malicious use of specific infectious agents, including
Smallpox was eradicated almost 25 years ago by a
WHO-led programme. Since then there have been no naturally occurring
cases and one known laboratory accident. National vaccination
programmes against smallpox have been stopped in all countries since
the early 1980s.
Current WHO guidelines, updated in 1998, recognise
the effectiveness of existing smallpox vaccines. They also detail the
incidence of adverse side effects due to vaccination, particularly
among people whose immune systems are compromised.
The guidelines recommend that only individuals at
risk of exposure (for example, laboratory researchers working on
smallpox or human monkeypox) should be vaccinated.
Dr Brundtland has asked the Advisory Group to
consider whether WHO should modify this guidance to take account of
any potential situation in which the smallpox virus is deliberately
used to cause infection.
Any new WHO guidance will immediately be made
available to Ministers of Health of the Member States of WHO.