South Korea is still not able to handle the effects of a smallpox attack by North Korea, which is judged to have the ability to manufacture the lethal virus, the Korea Herald reported on Monday (see GSN, March 2).
Pyongyang's biological weapon abilities include the capacity to reconstitute from available digital genetic sequences the highly virulent variola virus that was declared eradicated from nature in 1980, the South Korean Defense Ministry concluded in a new white paper. The document also states that the United States believes the South is among the nations most likely to experience a smallpox outbreak.
"Anyone who has the intent and the capability can now create the smallpox virus, which is the most devastating disease we have ever seen," said Jacob Cohn, a spokesman for the smallpox vaccine manufacturer Bavarian Nordic. "Here [in South Korea] the risk is double, in the sense that you have a next door neighbor and you have the international community risk."
A 2001 U.S. modeling exercise indicated that 3 million people could contract smallpox in no more than two months after the beginning of a pandemic. Historically, roughly 30 percent of those infected died.
As smallpox vaccinations ceased in the 1980s, certain biodefense analysts foresee a much higher death rate today should there be another outbreak. Additionally, because South Korea is more urbanized than the United States, the disease would be likely to infect individuals at a much faster pace.
South Korea in 2011 had to throw out roughly one-seventh of its 7-million-dose smallpox vaccine stockpile after government testing judged the doses to be ineffective (see GSN, Sept. 7, 2011). Approximately 4.6 million doses of the vaccine stock that remains have eclipsed their shelf-life.
South Korea is still not able to handle the effects of a smallpox attack by North Korea, which is judged to have the ability to manufacture the lethal virus, the Korea Herald reported on Monday.