Unapproved vials of smallpox found at Pennsylvania lab

FBI investigating the ‘questionable’ vials

Helen Elfer
Thursday 18 November 2021 21:21
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Lab worker accidentally injects herself with genetically modified strain of smallpox-related virus
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The FBI is investigating how several vials labeled “smallpox” came to be in a Pennsylvania vaccine research facility,

The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are looking into the 15 “questionable vials” that were found in a Merck facility freezer outside Philadelphia.

An alert was sent to Department of Homeland Security leadership on Tuesday night, saying five of the vials were labeled “smallpox” and 10 as “vaccinia,” reports Yahoo News.

The vials were secured immediately and the facility was put on a lockdown, which has since been lifted.

In a statement to CNN, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. said: “There is no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials.”

“The frozen vials labelled ‘Smallpox’ were incidentally discovered by a laboratory worker while cleaning out a freezer in a facility that conducts vaccine research in Pennsylvania. CDC, its Administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the vials’ contents appear intact,” it said.

The CDC’s statement continued: “The laboratory worker who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask. We will provide further details as they are available."

The World Health Organization declared Smallpox eradicated in 1980. Before that, the highly contagious and deadly virus infected 15 million people globally every year, killing about 30% of those who caught it. The last known outbreak in the US was in 1947.

A massive global vaccination campaign led to the disease’s eventual eradication, but governments have not agreed over whether samples of the virus should be kept or all should be destroyed.

Most routine vaccination for the general public stopped in 1972 but laboratory workers that work with viruses that cause smallpox or are similar to it still get vaccinated, as do some military personnel.

This isn’t the first time lab workers have stumbled across smallpox samples - in 2014, six vials were found in an unused storage room at the National Institutes of Health campus in Maryland. Two of the vials contained viable virus, but the CDC confirmed at the time there was no evidence to suggest anyone had been exposed to the contents.

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