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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Smallpox Plan for U.S. Military Troops

Aired November 7, 2002 - 12:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A pentagon plan to give U.S. troops the smallpox vaccine is under discussion today at the White House. The final decision will be made by the president, but today the defense secretary weighed in.
Joining us now with details, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was at the White House earlier today for a key national Security Council meeting to present the Pentagon's plan to begin inoculating up to half-a-million troops against the very deadly, contagious virus of smallpox.

Author Richard Preston, who has written a lot about all of this, spoke earlier this morning on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" about the threat of smallpox, the threat from Iraq, and why all of this is getting so much attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD PRESTON, AUTHOR, "THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER": I think there's pretty good evidence that Iraq, most likely, has smallpox. It may be one of the most powerful weapons in Saddam Hussein's arsenal. So, if a war with Iraq becomes more likely, then we have to ask the question as to whether or not Saddam would be crazy enough to ever release smallpox in the United States as a terror attack, or whether it could be part of a war zone in the Middle East, whether smallpox could, in fact, get to our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Now, because of this type of scenario, under the Pentagon plan, troops deploying to the Persian Gulf would be amongst the first to get the smallpox vaccine, also troops involved in medical care -- those who might be part of any disaster response here in the United States if there was a terrorist attack using smallpox. All of this is part of an effort to provide a layer of protection against any type of smallpox attack.

A recent war game called "Dark Winter" showed just how deadly an outbreak of smallpox would be. There are some very, very disturbing impacts from any type of smallpox attack. You see some of the pictures here that were shown during "Dark Winter" of what happens to people who are impacted by the smallpox virus. It is very, very deadly. The war game showed that within three weeks of any outbreak of smallpox in the United States, more than 20,000 people in perhaps half-a-dozen states would be affected. Thousands of people would die. The public health sector would be drastically impacted.

All of this is getting a lot of attention, of course, because smallpox was declared back in 1979 to be a eradicated by the World Health Organization. There hasn't been a case in the United States since 1949.

But the disease killed millions of people throughout the 20th century before vaccinations began. Of course, many of us remember getting these pinprick inoculations in our arms when we were children. But this vaccination program in the United States, of course, ended back in 1972, and that's exactly why it is such a critical issue for the U.S. military.

Of course, much of the military is under 30 years old, born long after the vaccination program ended in the United States, so military troops have -- many of them have absolutely no protection against smallpox. And the Pentagon says it is vital to get them this vaccine before they go to war in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thanks very much.

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