Philadelphia Laboratory was briefly locked after worker found “cups” vial in freezer | Vaccines and immunization

A laboratory worker at a Merck facility outside Philadelphia found 15 “questionable vials” labeled “smallpox” and “vaccinia” while cleaning a freezer earlier in the week, causing appalling safety concerns.

The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating the discovery, which involves a disease believed to have killed more than 300 million people since the beginning of the 20th century.

The Pennsylvania Facility, which conducts vaccine research, is no longer closed. The lab employee was wearing gloves and a face mask when they found the vials, the CDC said.

“There is no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials,” a CDC spokesman told Yahoo News, adding that their “content appears to be intact.”

Officially, cups can only be stored in two places in the world, located in Atlanta and Russia. Other unauthorized samples should have been transferred or destroyed, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, though some have appeared elsewhere in recent years.

The disease killed about three out of 10 people who got it, says the CDC, an unimaginable loss of life. But by the end of the 20th century, it had been defeated globally, an achievement that many consider “the greatest achievement in international public health.”

Smallpox remains one of only two officially eradicated diseases, according to the American Society for Microbiology.

Richard Ebright, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, suggested to the questioner that the vials in Pennsylvania represented a security threat. Someone with bioterrorism plans could have found them and used them.

But people should not be afraid that the vials will cause an outbreak, and even the lab worker who discovered them should be safe, he said.

“For the general public, there is no reason to worry, even a small amount,” Ebright said.

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