SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- With the jab of a needle, volunteers are being injected with a smallpox vaccine as part of government-sponsored experiments that come amid heightened fear of biological terrorism.
About 330 volunteers will be inoculated with diluted doses of the vaccine over the next two weeks at four sites across the nation. On Monday, the Oakland Medical Center began vaccinating 50 volunteers.
Researchers will test two vaccines. One, known as Dryvax, was made 20 years ago and consists of 15 million doses. The other is more than 70 million doses that Aventis Pasteur Inc. donated to the government, which now must determine whether the vaccines are still useable.
For decades, Aventis' doses sat nearly unnoticed in a walk-in freezer at a remote mountainside lab in Pennsylvania. The firm thought the contents of their freezer were so worthless they were planning to destroy the stockpile.
Then came Sept. 11 and the ensuing anthrax attacks.
Suddenly the nation's available supply of vaccine for smallpox, a disease that had been declared eradicated worldwide in 1980, was deemed crucial.
"In the past year, I think we've all become more aware of the possibility of a bioterrorist attack in the United States," said Steve Black, co-director of the Vaccine Research Center at Oakland Medical Center.
"I hope we never need to use this vaccine again, but it's important to make certain that if we do it will be available and it will work," Black said. "If we can show that this vaccine stock is still effective, it will go a long way toward making a dose of smallpox vaccine available for everyone in the U.S."
Volunteers have already begun receiving the vaccine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and the University of Iowa.
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