Smallpox Eradication


In 1967, the World Health Assembly undertook to eradicate smallpox worldwide. Priority was given to this disease, because, throughout history, it had been the most devastating of all human infections. The key elements of program execution included the World Health Organization's (WHO's) success in recruiting the global cooperation of all nations, an especially effective vaccine, a new instrument that facilitated vaccination and a unique strategy for stopping the spread of smallpox infection. The goal of the program was to eliminate smallpox throughout the world in 10 years. It missed the goal by only a few months. Smallpox Eradication was declared by the WHO in 1980 and smallpox vaccination ceased everywhere. The program, its strategies and organisation provided the impetus for a heightened global program of immunisation that includes poliomyelitis, measles, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccines.

Key Concepts

  • The eradication of smallpox was far more than a mass vaccination campaign. It was an exceptionally complex effort requiring global participation of countries, practical and applied research, vision and time.
  • For a global program necessarily involving many different countries, there is need for a primary force to shape strategy, to goad national authorities into action and to redirect the overall program as necessary. WHO is a basic necessity.
  • A special effort for disease surveillance and epidemic control was a critical basic requirement.
  • A heatā€stable vaccine meeting international standards was essential.
  • Different countries and changing circumstances require continuing adaptation.
  • The strategies and policies developed during the smallpox program proved to be highly relevant to other vaccination programs.

Keywords: vaccine; infectious disease; epidemics; plagues; eradication


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Further Reading

Alibek K (1998) Biohazard. New York: Random House.

Fenner F, Henderson DA, Arita I, Jezek Z and Ladnyi ID (1988) Smallpox and Its Eradication. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Fisher RB (1991) Edward Jenner. London: Deutsch.

Gronvall GK (2012) Preparing for Bioterrorism. Baltimore: Center for Biosecurity.

Henderson DA (1998) The siren song of eradication. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London 32: 580–584.

Henderson DA, Borio LL and Lane JM (2004) Smallpox and vaccinia. In: Plotkin SA and Orenstein WA, (eds). Vaccines, pp. 123–153. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders.

Hopkins DR (2002) The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Preston R (2002) The Demon in the Freezer. New York: Random House.

Tucker JB (2001) Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

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How to Cite close
Henderson, Donald A(May 2015) Smallpox Eradication. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000959.pub3]