In a 27-7 vote, the World Health Organization has delayed its decision on the fate of smallpox virus stockpiles in the U.S. and Russia until 2014, leading some experts to believe the group sees the benefits in continual research using the virus.
Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, but both the private and public sector have continued to research antivirals and vaccines to combat bioterror threats.
"In the past, assemblies have called for immediate destruction or for setting a date for destruction. The tenor of the debate really was much more oriented toward the recognition it would be time for us to have countermeasures," said Nils Daulaire, director at the office of global health affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to the LA Times. Although there are approved vaccines and antivirals, many others are in the pipeline, and future research could eradicate the side-effects that come with the current remedies.
The U.S. and Russian stockpiles are located in Atlanta and Novosibirsk, respectively. According to the Wall Street Journal, the WHO recommended destroying the virus samples in the 1990s. During this current process, Iran led the charge against keeping the virus samples. "The real concern that Iran had with the resolution was we had called for all countries to confirm they held no smallpox stocks and that any stocks they had ever held had been destroyed," Daulaire said to Reuters. "That was unacceptable to them."
The WHO could postpone there decision again in 2014, Daulaire told the Wall Street Journal. "Research has this nasty tendency not to be predictable," he said. "We don't know what the time horizon is."