Mass Vaccination and Surveillance/Containment in the Eradication of Smallpox

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Abstract

The Smallpox Eradication Program, initiated by the WHO in 1966, was originally based on mass vaccination. The program emphasized surveillance from the beginning, largely to track the success of the program and further our understanding of the epidemiology of the disease. Early observations in West Africa, bolstered by later data from Indonesia and the Asian subcontinent, showed that smallpox did not spread rapidly, and outbreaks could be quickly controlled by isolation of patients and vaccination of their contacts. Contacts were usually easy to find because transmission of smallpox usually required prolonged face-to-face contact. The emphasis therefore shifted to active searches to find cases, coupled with contact tracing, rigorous isolation of patients, and vaccination and surveillance of contacts to contain outbreaks. This shift away from mass vaccination resulted in an acceleration of the program’s success.