In a country 11 years removed from the last major terrorists attack that is working through economic problems, why would a virus that has been eradicated in the wild for over 30 years prompt the government to spend nearly half a billion dollars to acquire enough antiviral to treat two million people? It’s a question that many are asking. The answers all sound pretty fishy.
The smallpox virus once terrified the majority of the world. With a death rate of 1 in 3, it’s over thirty times more deadly than the worst forms of flu. Even today, it strikes fear into those who remember the 1940s and 1950s when smallpox vaccination lines would extend several city blocks.
It’s the deadliness of the virus that is being used as the reason that the US government just gave Siga Technologies $463 million for Arestvyr, over $200 per course of treatment. When lives are at stake, it’s a low cost. The problem with the government’s story is that lives aren’t at stake. The chances of needing the level of preparedness the government has taken to thwart a biological attack are exceptionally small.
Or are they?
Here’s what we know about the deal:
- Since 1980, the remnants of the virus are stored in government labs in the United States and Russia.
- The United States has enough smallpox vaccine to give to the entire population.
- The vaccine is administered by forked pin, can be administered by anyone with 10 minutes of training, and it’s estimated that the entire country could be vaccinated in 3 days.
- The virus can take two weeks for an infected person to become seriously ill. Because of this, the vaccine works up to three days after infection.
- Smallpox does not become infectious until the pox start erupting, over two weeks after infection and at a point when the infected are too sick to wander.
- The antiviral costs at most around $10 per course to produce.
In short, we paid too much to get treatments for a virus that barely exists anymore and that can be easily re-eradicated by vaccines that we already have.
Or did we?
As conspiracy theories go, here are some that each make a lot more sense than what the government is telling us.
Arestvyr treats more than just normal smallpox
If there was a reason to believe that a new variation of smallpox was being developed or that a similar virus was in play for which there is no vaccine, the purchase would make more sense. It would not behoove the government to tell the public nor the potential bioterrorists that they have an appropriate antiviral, so a standard smallpox treatment became the cover story to keep a deadlier virus undocumented.
There’s a risk of alternative delivery methods for the virus
Even though the virus does not spread easily from person to person because of the debilitated condition its victims enter before becoming infectious, an alternative method of delivering the virus could pose problems. The former Soviet Union was rumored to have warheads that could release the virus in the atmosphere and spread it to a large population in a short period of time.
It could also be spread by a highly coordinated group of contagious terrorists walking through cities around the country. They would have to act simultaneously, of course, and even then it would likely still have to be a mutated form of the virus to kill a large number of people before it was isolated and the population was vaccinated.
This is the financial red herring for separate project altogether
There are ways that government officials can move millions of dollars without being noticed by an oversight committee or budget watchdog group, but half a billion dollars is a little harder to camouflage. If a wing of the government needed to get a large sum of money to a company for research, perhaps for a weapon or treatment of something entirely different that they don’t want people to know even exists, they could do so with this sort of questionable buy.
Siga Technologies puts the whole price tag on the smallpox antiviral which costs them less than $20 million to produce and simply doesn’t bill the government at all for the other project. It all works out in the end and else in or out of Washington DC needs to know anything about the side project.
Somebody got their palms greased
This seems like the least likely possibility, but it still makes much more sense than the outrageous and unnecessary purchase of huge reserves of a smallpox antiviral.
“Is it appropriate to stockpile it? Absolutely,” said Dr. Richard H. Ebright, a bioweapons expert at Rutgers University. “Is it appropriate to stockpile two million doses? Absolutely not. Twenty thousand seems like the right number.”
What makes this concept even less likely is that the company is controlled by Ronald O. Perelman, a billionaire who wouldn’t need to make such a risky deal if there were kickbacks involved.
There’s an upcoming population reduction and they want to make sure that 2 million people survive
In the movie 2012, the governments of the world knew that life as they knew it would be ending. They devised a plan that could save a large portion of the population, but kept it secret so that the doomed wouldn’t revolt and could live out their final days in blissful ignorance of the impending doom.
We survived the Mayans and other doomsday prognosticators, but what if there really is something around the corner that they’re not telling us?
As wild as these ideas are, they still make more sense than what the government is telling us. Don’t take your tinfoil hats off just yet.