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Co. Finds Stock of Smallpox Vaccine

March 28, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A pharmaceutical company has discovered stores of smallpox vaccine in its freezers, potentially bolstering the nation’s inventory and ensuring an adequate supply in the event of a bioterrorist attack.

The vaccine was produced by Aventis Pasteur of Lyon, France, at its American headquarters in Swiftwater, Pa., and was discovered after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a spokeswoman for the company in France.

Neither she, nor the company’s U.S. spokesman, Len Lavenda, would provide details.

``In the interest of national security we agreed to the government’s request not to discuss this matter publicly,″ Lavenda said.

However, he said the details would be released at a news conference Friday with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

HHS officials had no comment Thursday.

The Washington Post on Thursday quoted government sources as saying 70 million to 90 million doses of liquid vaccine had been found by the company.

The vaccine has been stored in freezers since it was made decades ago, the Post reported, citing unnamed sources. It was unclear why its existence had gone undiscovered for so long, exactly when it was discovered or by whom.

With the extra time provided by the discovery, companies will be able to fine-tune some of the new vaccine candidates under development, instead of rushing effective but perhaps less-than-perfect vaccines into production as an emergency stopgap measure.

Sources told the Post that Aventis is negotiating with the federal government, with the goal of giving the United States access to the supply.

U.S. anti-terrorism officials, guessing that terrorists could one day gain access to samples of the smallpox virus, have said the country should be prepared for a biological attack.

The vaccine must be given within a few days after exposure to smallpox, posing a logistical nightmare if outbreaks were to occur in several locations simultaneously. Smallpox has historically killed about a third of those it infects.

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