Search Engines: Serendipity: Hardly a poxy matter
Simon Singh is an author, journalist and TV producer, specialising in science and Mathematics. His latest book is "Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial", co-authored with Edzard Ernst, the world’s first professor of complementary medicine.
Sunday 16 May 1999
In 1796, he extracted some pus from the blister of a milkmaid suffering from cowpox, and injected it into James Phipps, a healthy eight-year-old. The following day he injected some smallpox into the boy, who suffered no ill effects. Jenner had demonstrated the power of inoculation. The now-famous discovery earned him a reward of pounds 20,000, and his hero status was acknowledged by Napoleon, who released two English prisoners when the doctor interceded on their behalf.
While smallpox vaccinations saved many lives in the 19th century, the virus remained at large, killing two million people in 1968. Eventually, a coordinated worldwide effort eradicated the disease in the 1970s, and for the last two decades the only remaining viruses have been kept in one Russian and one American laboratory. The scientists have been conducting a series of experiments, such as identifying the virus's genetic make- up, but all along it has been assumed that the viruses have been on death row. Tomorrow, which happens to be Jenner's 250th birthday, the World Health Assembly meets, and it will be discussing a plan to destroy the remaining virus stocks by 30 June 1999.
Those in favour of extinction claim that as long as laboratories retain stocks there is a risk of smallpox escaping. Indeed, the last smallpox death was a photographer who was infected at Birmingham University Medical School in 1978. There is also the possibility of terrorists using stolen viruses as a biological weapon. Those against destroying the smallpox stocks argue that terrorists might already possess smallpox viruses, and therefore researchers should continue to develop better vaccines. Also, it is possible that a variation of smallpox, perhaps monkeypox, will one day cross over to humans. Hence some scientists want to continue studying the live virus in preparation for such an occasion.
Both America and Russia have recently declared their reluctance to destroy their smallpox viruses, and so even if the World Health Assembly votes in favour of destruction, it is not clear that it can enforce the decision. A compromise, which might avoid embarrassment, would be a stay of execution, deferring the issue for a year or two.
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao live: Mayweather puts on defensive masterclass to win by unanimous decision
- 4 Floyd Mayweather's mouthguard costs $25,000 - enough to fly to Las Vegas and back 18 times
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Daredevil, Netflix, TV review: Marvel wins first fight in bid for television domination with Charlie Cox's superhero vigilante
Grace Dent on TV: Peter Kay's Car Share made me genuinely LOL
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns