the incredible story of stolen vaccine stocks and vials of the virus

Faced with the threat of an epidemic represented by monkeypox, we now know that smallpox vaccines would be 85% protective. Also, it is interesting to know if France has the necessary stocks and if they are immediately available. Professor Hervé Fleury virologist, researcher and professor emeritus at the CHU and at the University of Bordeaux was working in a laboratory at the CHU in 2000 when he was asked to participate in a national commission, on the question of these smallpox vaccines .

“The last described case of smallpox in the world was in 1977 in Somalia”

He hasn’t forgotten anything. “In 1995, at the time of the fall of the USSR, we learned that Islamic groups had possibly obtained vials from the Novosibirsk laboratory. The last described case of smallpox in the world was in 1977 in Somalia. The announcement of this flight could tip the world back into a new, very serious pandemic since a large part of the population was no longer protected by vaccines, fears of a bioterrorist attack were real. »

The painter Mélingue painted in 1879 Edward Jenner vaccinating a child against smallpox.

Library of the Royal Academy of Medicine

Stolen bottles

There is nothing fanciful about Professor Fleury’s memories, since we can still read today in the National Response Plan to a Smallpox Threat, drawn up by the French Ministry of Health, updated in August 2006, that “It is possible, although no concrete information officially confirms this risk, that viruses have been stored or obtained illegally. It is also possible, in this event, that illegally held viruses could be intentionally disseminated for terrorist purposes. ” Whoops.

The new vaccines were repackaged and then stored. A priori, there are between 60 and 70 million doses left. Where ? Top secret

This very detailed ministerial report, which explains the context, the real risks and the strategic procedures, is chilling, given the seriousness of the disease of smallpox, which is particularly deadly and contagious: “The consequences of a resurgence of this disease would be dramatic, a large part of the French population (as well as the world population) not having been vaccinated is not protected. indicates the text.

Moreover, the disease having been completely forgotten for thirty years, diagnostic delays could be the cause of a dramatic extension of the epidemic. Disaster scenario if any. A response strategy was initiated by the French government in 2000, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, in which Professor Hervé Fleury in Bordeaux and his team from Pellegrin Hospital participated.

Diluted vaccines

“Indeed, he comments, I was invited to be on a commission to reflect on the actions to be taken in the event of a bioterrorist smallpox attack. At that time, there remained in the fridges of our country, 20 million vaccines stored. Too little to respond to an epidemic. The United States, being in the same concern as us, with too few vaccines available, began to dilute the vaccines available to distribute them better, before conducting the first clinical trials on volunteers. When the results of these trials were published in the New England Journal Of Medicine, validating the effectiveness of diluted smallpox vaccines, we began the same operation in France, dividing the original smallpox vaccine by three. »

Between 2000 and 2003, volunteers agreed to take part in this clinical trial throughout France, including at the Pellegrin Hospital in Bordeaux, where the infectious disease department has always been at the forefront. It is also one of the reference sites in the country in the event of a bioterrorist attack. “Very quickly we realized that the vaccine thus diluted worked just as well as the original one. And so, the new vaccines were repackaged and then stored. A priori, there are between 60 and 70 million doses left. Where ? Top secret. »

Professor Denis Malvy, infectious disease specialist at the Bordeaux University Hospital agrees on the effectiveness of smallpox vaccines against Monkeypox, while not knowing where these vaccines are stored. “Hypothetically, they are on well-protected military sites,” he suggests.

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