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Worker accidentally stumbles upon vials of smallpox in Merck lab, sends major red flags

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Fifteen vials, five of them labeled “smallpox” and the other 10 labeled “vaccinia,” were reportedly inexplicably found in a pharmaceutical lab outside Philadelphia owned by Merck & Co., the multinational pharmaceutical company, on Monday.

Vaccinia is the name of the actual virus that triggers smallpox.

The accidental discovery of the vials by a lab worker who’d been cleaning out a freezer was so shocking that it triggered a since-rescinded lockdown, in addition to an alert to the Department of Homeland Security’s top brass, according to Yahoo News.

Investigations have since been launched by both the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings could be an issue because, although smallpox was declared eradicated in the United States during the 1970s thanks to mass vaccinations, decades have passed, meaning “waning” immunity for those who were vaccinated.

In addition, following its eradication, routine smallpox vaccinations also came to a stop, meaning there are millions of Americans who are unvaccinated against it.

That being said, a CDC spokesperson assured Yahoo News that nobody has been “exposed” to the vials.

“There is no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials. The frozen vials labeled ‘Smallpox’ were incidentally discovered by a laboratory worker while cleaning out a freezer in a facility that conducts vaccine research in Pennsylvania,” the spokesperson said.

“CDC, its Administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter, and the vials’ contents appear intact. The laboratory worker who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask. We will provide further details as they are available,” according to the spokesperson.

Answers are nevertheless still needed because, according to Yahoo News, “only two labs in the world are authorized to store samples of the virus, including one in Russia and the other at the CDC in Atlanta.” Why then were the samples in a publicly traded pharmaceutical company’s freezer?

In fact, just the fact that samples even still exist is controversial.

“Scientists have debated for years whether to destroy any remaining samples, citing the danger of a mishap that could unleash a disease that has been eradicated since the 1970s. Those in favor of keeping samples have argued they are needed to develop new vaccines in response to a new outbreak,” according to Yahoo News.

As for the samples in Philadelphia, on Tuesday the CDC told Yahoo News that it intended to retrieve the vials Wednesday and transport them to an official CDC facility for testing.

The good news is that when smallpox samples were also found in 2014, that finding certainly didn’t lead to a reemergence of the virus.

“In July 2014 … [w]orkers at the National Institutes of Health found vials containing smallpox in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda, Md. … A scientist found 16 vials marked ‘variola’ in the 2014 incident. After being tested, the samples were set to be destroyed,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Based on both what happened in 2014 and the lack of exposure during the latest finding, Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, is confident the public has nothing to worry about.

“For the general public there is no basis for being worried, even a small amount,” he said to the Inquirer.

“The issue with the discovery of the samples was lax security rather than public safety, said Ebright. While the vials themselves do not pose a risk of triggering an outbreak, their storage at the Pennsylvania facility could have been discovered and taken by someone with plans of a bioterrorist attack, he said,” according to the Inquirer.

And in case there is ever another outbreak, the U.S. reportedly has a stockpile of smallpox vaccines ready to go.

This week’s shocking finding comes only days after controversial billionaire Bill Gates warned of possible smallpox terror attacks …

“Bill Gates said governments must get ready for future pandemics and smallpox terror attacks by investing billions in research and development,” as reported by Sky News.

He made the eerie remark during an interview with U.K. Health Select Committee chair Jeremy Hunt.

He also reportedly called for the playing of so-called “germ games,” a term he uses to describe governments practicing how they’d respond in a pandemic.

“You say, OK, what if a bioterrorist brought smallpox to 10 airports? You know, how would the world respond to that? There’s naturally-caused epidemics and bioterrorism-caused epidemics that could even be way worse than what we experienced today and yet, the advances in medical science should give us tools that, you know, we could do dramatically better,” he reportedly said.

“So you’d think this would be a priority. The next year will be where those allocations have to get made, including this global pandemic Task Force,” he added.

Interestingly, Gates had warned of the current ongoing coronavirus pandemic six years earlier.

“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes,” he said in 2015.

Vivek Saxena

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