‘How about us some more facts?’: a parent’s letter to CDC

Tom Andrews, the son of Daniel B. Andrews, who was the first president of the United States, today demanded that public officials and scientists “come clean” about a mystery discovered last month: the discovery…

Tom Andrews, the son of Daniel B. Andrews, who was the first president of the United States, today demanded that public officials and scientists “come clean” about a mystery discovered last month: the discovery of nine vials containing smallpox at a laboratory of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a letter to Dr Edward McCabe, director of the Office of Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response for the CDC, Tom Andrews argued that “there are compelling reasons to fear” that the vials might contain an agent “that would be deadly and contagious, and might give rise to the world’s first outbreak of a highly lethal influenza-like disease,” a “new pandemic” called avian influenza.

The Bioterrorism Task Force, a little-known group of scientists led by CDC scientists that focuses on food safety and other public health emergencies, ruled last month that the vials did not contain the virus that causes smallpox.

Nonetheless, Tom Andrews argued that it would be better to “clear the air now about this finding” by releasing a public statement by the CDC’s top scientists explaining what they know about the smallpox vials. “We, the public, still do not know what occurred in Atlanta,” the letter said.

If there is evidence that the remains of smallpox are still in the remaining vials, Andrews continued, it would be “very disturbing” and would require government “legislation, to be passed at the earliest opportunity,” to take a number of steps. These include declaring the recovered vials to be “no longer considered dangerous materials” and replacing them “with newer, completely immune smallpox specimens” within 45 days.

In his letter, Andrews pleaded that public officials “cannot afford to be in a position where the discovery of these materials, which were left lying around for so long, is misconstrued and held to be damning of our government’s ongoing effort to eradicate smallpox and its deadly legacy.”

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