Apr. 6, 2005 – One big problem that could occur with a possible worldwide bioterrorism attack goes beyond any health scare – it’s politics, said a homeland security expert Tuesday night at Texas A&M University.
Randall Larsen, senior adviser to the Center of BioSecurity in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a frequent terrorism expert used by CBS, the History Channel, Discovery Channel and others, told listeners at the Bush Presidential Library that a possible bioterrorism attack could bring huge political problems for the U.S. at the same time we are trying to protect the health of our own citizens.
“An attack using smallpox is a very real possibility, and the problem is that only a handful of countries in the world have enough adequate supplies for their own people,” Larsen explained as he presented “Atlantic Storm,” a re-enactment of what might occur if a smallpox attack occurred worldwide.
“In 2001, we had only 12 million doses of smallpox vaccine in the United States. After viewing ‘Atlantic Storm,’ Congress approved production to cover everyone in the U.S. – about 300 million doses.
“But there is only enough vaccine right now for only 10 percent of the world’s population. Only a few countries – the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, The Netherlands and several more – have adequate supplies. So if other countries are attacked and they come to us for smallpox vaccine, do we give it to them? If so, have we risked the welfare of our own nation by doing so?
“The situation becomes a health problem and a worldwide political problem at the same time.”
Larsen said a smallpox attack could be a nightmare scenario.
To begin with, less than one percent of the doctors in the world have ever examined a person who had smallpox, he said.
“If you take all of the wars fought in the 20th century and add up the casualties, it comes out to about 100 million killed in the last 100 years,” he said.
“Smallpox has killed more than that throughout history. It kills about one-third of its victims, and those that it doesn’t kill, it makes them either blind or very weak. It’s a highly contagious disease that knows no borders.”
In the re-enactment of “Atlantic Storm,” various world leaders are brought together to discuss how to handle a smallpox attack on numerous countries. In the film, the president of the United States is played by Madeline Albright, former secretary of state.
Larsen frequently stopped the film to ask audience members how they would react, what steps they would take and if the steps taken by the world leaders were the correct ones.
In 1999, Larsen created the nation’s first academic course in homeland security. He said that a possible bioterrorism attack on the U.S. was very real, adding “In the 21st century, public health departments will be as important as the Department of Defense was in the 20th century.”
His lecture was sponsored by the Texas A&M University Integrative Center for Homeland Security and the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center.
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