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US and Russian smallpox stocks spared the chop

Another three years for vital vaccine research

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The US and Russia have secured themselves another three years to carry out vital research into the smallpox virus, after the World Health Organization's (WHO) annual shindig rejected calls for the immediate destruction of the countries' variola stockpiles.

Smallpox was effectively eradicated over 30 years ago, and for 25 years the debate on eliminating the remaining government-held repositories has "rumbled on", as Reuters puts it.

Everyone at the World Health Assembly in Geneva agreed that the virus should be destroyed at some stage, but once again no consensus could be reached.

The US and Russia pushed for a five-year respite. The former said "more research is needed into vaccines against the disease". The opposition, led by Iran, demanded urgent action "because of the risk of stockpiles falling into the wrong hands".

In the end, WHO opted for a compromise – three more years before the matter is raised again.

The organisation's Pierre Formenty told the press: "There has been a lot of discussion around the smallpox issue. Three years from now, we will resume the discussion." ®

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