Smallpox vaccine and HIV susceptibility

The temporal relationship between the eradication of smallpox and the consequent end of smallpox vaccination on the one hand and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Africa on the other has led some scientists to speculate that smallpox vaccine might have some protective benefit against HIV infection. A team at George Mason has just published a press release claiming in vitro evidence to support that speculation. [*]

If that were true, the case for population-wide innoculation would be even stronger than I already thought it was.[*]

One in vitro test on twenty samples isn’t enough to make policy on. Right now, the right thing to do is more experiments. A major potential problem with a world-wide vaccination program is that smallpox vaccine shouldn’t be given to those who are HIV-positive, which is a big problem in Africa where prevalence is hight and the cost of testing is significant.

However, finding out whether the George Mason team is right, and then doing the right thing about it if they are, is a lot more important to the defense of this country than 98% of what’s now being done in the name of the war on terrorism.

I just wish I thought that the current administration was on top of this, and willing, if it proved out, to divert some money from either the occupation effort in Iraq or the bank accounts of dividend recipients to pay for a crash program of vaccine development and administration, not just here but worldwide.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: