Multiple federal agencies are looking into 15 vials, including five alarmingly labelled as smallpox, that was found at a pharmaceutical laboratory outside of Philadelphia.
According to Centres for Disease Control, the vials, 10 of which were labelled vaccinia after the virus used to make smallpox vaccines, were discovered by a laboratory worker who was cleaning out a freezer.
Smallpox was annihilated in 1980 with a successful mass vaccination campaign after it killed a predicted 300 million people in the 20th century alone.
Samples of the dangerous virus are only supposed to be kept in two labs, the CDC headquarters in Atlanta and the Vector Institute in Koltsovo, Russia.
The FBI and the CDC are now investigating the discovery.
The two agencies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from a newspaper outlet.
The finding was first reported by Yahoo News, which obtained a copy of an alert sent to the Department of Homeland Security marked For Official Use Only.
It’s not known how the vials ended up at the Merck facility in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania or if they do contain the virus.
After they were found, the vials were secured quickly and the facility was put on lockdown but was later lifted, and a source told NBC10 that Merck was in the process of figuring out why it was there.
Merck didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from a newspaper outlet, and a CDC spokesperson told Yahoo that there was no evidence that anyone had been exposed to the small number of frozen vials.
It was said that the frozen labelled Smallpox was unexpectedly spotted by a laboratory worker while cleaning out a freezer in a facility that conducts vaccine research in Pennsylvania.
According to WCAU, the discovery took place at the Merck Upper Gwynedd facility in North Wales, approximately 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
The spokesperson said CDC, its Administration partner, and law enforcement are investigating the matter, said that the vials’ contents appeared intact and that the laboratory worker who found the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask, and that further details would be given as they were available.
The incident is likely to renew questions about what should be done with the world’s Smallpox samples, which are kept in only two labs in the world.
According to the CDC, Smallpox is an infection caused by the variola virus. Patients develop a temperature and a unique, progressive skin rash.
And even though Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, it continues to be a possible means of biowarfare and bioterrorism, and it’s deemed a category A organism, which is easy to disseminate and spread from person to person.
Merck probably has old samples buried at the back of their freezers. The problem is, we trust these people to be above and beyond our mistakes, and they’re supposed to keep stringent controls that are monitored and catalogued, not buried at the back of a freezer, which makes you question what other world killer viruses are being left undocumented.
This is a huge dominating vaccine pharma company. Of course, someone might have wanted to damage its reputation by planting something that shouldn’t have been there, but then there’s no holds barred in the big pharma world. Smear, defame and put your competitors out of business.