scholarship: Richards on the flaws in the smallpox bioterrorism preparedness plan

* Forthcoming Scholarship


Edward Richards (LSU Law School)

National Security Forum Symposia Issue, William Mitchell Law Review

Smallpox is perhaps the most frightening bioterrorism agent because we do not need to imagine its effects. Smallpox killed and disfigured hundreds of thousands of people within living memory, even with the availability of effective vaccines. Before the vaccine age, smallpox was one of the great plagues, evolving with human civilization because it affects no other species. While malaria and tuberculosis are also great killers, they kill by stealth. Smallpox strikes terror because it kills quickly and horribly.

Smallpox was a major bogeyman after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Bush administration launched a major smallpox vaccination campaign, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was directed to develop a national response plan for a smallpox bioterrorism attack. This article analyzes the smallpox response plan within the larger context of public health emergency response post-Katrina and post-H1N1. It concludes that the response plan depends on infrastructure that has been destroyed by decades of state budget cuts, and that the plan would not be effective for the most likely outbreak scenarios. The article proposes an alternative response plan based on the rebuilding of critical public health infrastructure and identifies the public trust issues that have to be addressed for any communicable disease response plan to succeed.

The article contains hot links to critical historical documents that are archived on the author’s WWW site. Some of these are no longer available from governmental sources.

Richards (full final) 7.20.2010.pdf


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