Has smallpox been eradicated by vaccination or is it a "myth"?


A patient receives a flu vaccine on October 8, 2015 in Lille – PHILIPPE HUGUEN AFP

  • In late February, YouTube, Pinterest and Amazon Prime committed to fighting false information about vaccination.
  • The Immunization Week, created in 2005 by the World Health Organization (WHO), will take place from 24 to 30 April.
  • In the sixth edition of its series, "20 Minutes" returns to the talk, released on anti-vaccination sites, that the World Health Organization (WHO) has not eradicated smallpox through vaccination.

What if the World Health Organization (WHO) had been lying to the public for almost 40 years about smallpox, which it declared "eradicated" in 1980? The theory is prevalent in several sites designed to alert vaccination,
as "Info Vaccines France".

This website is also based on excerpts from the final report on global eradication of smallpox to show WHO's alleged failure to admit during its vaccination campaign in the 1960s. "Info Vaccines France" cites several "shock" phrases in the document available on WHO website, including the following: "Eradication campaigns based entirely on mass vaccination have been successful in SOME CASES."

The website then states that only the so-called "surveillance-restraint" strategy, that is, patient isolation, would have allowed the disease to "triumph" in a few years, "interrupting the chain of transmission."

But it is a misinterpretation of the report, which omits the essential parts.

Illustration of a child vaccine.
Illustration of a child vaccine. – Pixabay


Philippe Sansonetti, MD and researcher in microbiology and author of vaccines (Odile Jacob) confirms: " It is clearly the vaccination that eradicated smallpox. WHO, which funded and organized this global campaign, deserves credit. "

"It was very difficult, we have to go back to the context of the time, when we did not have access to the means of today to reach populations really difficult to access," he adds.

Anne-Marie Moulin, MD, CNRS research director and author of Vaccination Adventure (Fayard) is a little more reserved: "The paternity of this advance was claimed by the WHO, although it also refers to the two centuries of fighting against smallpox." From 1800 all the sovereigns worked for the vaccination, which at that time But the WHO has made the coup de grace against this disease. "

With significant results in some areas very quickly, as noted in the WHO report (page 32): "Mass vaccination campaigns were the most successful in countries with relatively well-developed and well-managed health services. Notable successes have been recorded in China, several countries in South America, some African countries and the Middle East, parts of Southeast Asia, such as Burma, and several other countries. of southern India. "

Difficulties of access

Inger Damon, a smallpox physician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US federal agency for the protection of public health, points to 20 minutes "The global campaign led by the WHO has used a massive vaccination strategy to reach 80% coverage, but this goal has been difficult to achieve in many less developed areas for a variety of reasons including poor access, lack of safety, population migration and lack of vaccine supplies. "

This explains the shortcomings mentioned by WHO, particularly in some countries, such as India.

Ring vaccination, an effective solution

Although these difficulties led to a series of failures, they did not prevent the campaign from reaching its goal, mainly thanks to the "ring vaccination strategy". "

More recently used against the Ebola virus, it consists of "specifically identifying cases of smallpox and vaccinating individuals who come in contact with them," says Anne-Marie Moulin. "The WHO has spent huge sums of money on its campaign. The switch to vaccination has been decided for reasons of efficiency and economy," he adds.

According to Philippe Sansonetti, this development is more than positive: "Contrary to what the vaccines say, it is a demonstration of a flexible approach to public health, we realized that it was impossible to immunize everyone and we modified the strategy. That is how we managed to eradicate smallpox , that is, both to eliminate the disease and to ensure that the virus does not circulate more. "

"It should be more about elimination than eradication"

Can we really talk about "eradication"? Anne-Marie Moulin: "We should talk about elimination. Eradication implies total destruction, that is not the case: there are certainly more cases of smallpox in the world, but there are still stocks of smallpox viruses preserved in Russia and the United States. United States. "What WHO recognizes on its website: [La variole] does not occur more naturally, but the smallpox virus stocks are still conserved in two reinforced containment labs. "

According to Inger Damon, the last person in the world to suffer from large smallpox [la forme la plus grave de variole] was a child in Bangladesh in 1975. And the last case of smallpox acquired naturally by smallpox dates back to 1977 in Somalia.


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