J Med Ethics 30:558-560 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.004176
  • Public health ethics

Bioterrorism and smallpox planning: information and voluntary vaccination

  1. M J Selgelid
  1. Correspondence to:
 M J Selgelid
 Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (D06), and Unit for History and Philosophy of Science (F07), The University of Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia;
  • Received 31 March 2003
  • Accepted 30 May 2003


Although smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, there are fears that stocks of the virus manufactured for military purposes by the Soviet Union may have fallen into the hands of “rogue nations” or terrorists. Worries about bioterrorism have thus sparked debate about whether or not the smallpox vaccine, which can be dangerous, should be offered to the general public. Meaningful public debate on this issue requires expert information about the likelihood that the virus will in fact be used as a weapon. Informed voluntary individual decision making, about whether to get vaccinated if vaccine is made available to the public, would similarly require appreciation of the likelihood of attack. Public deliberation and private deliberation thus both require briefing by the intelligence community.