St. Louis Public Radio News
2:31 pm
Mon February 1, 2010

SLU tapped to help federal gov't research smallpox vaccine

St. Louis – The federal government has tapped Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development to help research a vaccine that would be used to respond to a bio-terror attack using smallpox.

The Center has been involved with the clinical trials for the vaccine before. The latest research will look at two different strengths of the vaccine, and two different ways to deliver it.

One method injects the vaccine into the layer of fat between the skin and the muscle. Another delivers it between the layers of skin, and requires much less vaccine. The study will look at which method prompts the strongest immune response.

The difference in the volume of vaccines that could be distributed is huge, said Dr. Sharon Frey, the lead investigator on the vaccine research.

"If you use the route that uses the lesser vaccine, you could probably have a ten-fold increase in the number of people you could vaccinate," she said.

Frey said emergency officials would look to vaccinate a ring around any area possibly affected by a bio-terror attack.

"We would go in and immediately vaccine those people who were exposed, and build a ring of vaccination around that exposure, because we do have a few days to get the vaccine out," she said. The method that injects the vaccine under the skin would make that ring much larger.

The world was declared free of smallpox in 1980, but Frey said concerns still remain that rogue nations have the ability to access and weaponize the smallpox virus, which is highly contagious and can be fatal.

Volunteers who are interested in participating in the clinical trials can call 314-977-6333