In January of this year, staff from the History of Vaccines project traveled to Baltimore along with other College of Physicians staffers to interview D.A. Henderson, MD, who directed a worldwide campaign for the eradication of smallpox—the only disease ever to be wiped out.
The campaign that eventually led to the eradication of smallpox included massive surveillance efforts to monitor disease outbreaks, “ring vaccination” (protecting those who might have been exposed to a smallpox patient), and unprecedented communication and cooperation with local populations worldwide. Dr. Henderson recently documented these efforts in his book, Smallpox: The Death of a Disease.
Formerly a Life Sciences Adviser to President George H.W. Bush and the first director of the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness (within the Department of Health and Human Services), Dr. Henderson is currently a distinguished scholar at the Center for Biosecurity in Baltimore. During our interview, he discussed the reasons smallpox was considered a good candidate for eradication, the last case of variola major (the more severe of the two main forms of the disease), and when and where the very last case of naturally occurring smallpox took place.