Always label every bottle

One of those things every lab person knows: label everything. Write down what’s in it, and also the date it was made. At least the person responsible for this followed the rule.

Several vials labeled “smallpox” have been found at a vaccine research facility in Pennsylvania, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

“There is no indication that anyone has been exposed to the small number of frozen vials,” the CDC said in a statement emailed to CNN.

“The frozen vials labeled ‘Smallpox’ were incidentally discovered by a laboratory worker while cleaning out a freezer in a facility that conducts vaccine research in Pennsylvania. CDC, its Administration partners, and law enforcement are investigating the matter and the vials’ contents appear intact,” the CDC added.

“The laboratory worker who discovered the vials was wearing gloves and a face mask. We will provide further details as they are available.”

You don’t need intent to kill us all, when stupidity and neglect is sufficient.


  1. ShowMetheData says

    Technical note:
    This looks like a stock photo of the Vaccine for smallpox
    not the smallpox itself
    Still – good labeling

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I agree it has all the hallmarks of a vaccine.

    Calf lymph was the name given[7] to a type of smallpox vaccine used in the 19th century, and which was still manufactured up to the 1970s.

    Dryvax was a freeze-dried live-virus smallpox vaccine prepared from calf lymph and used for smallpox eradication efforts.[14] The vaccine was effective, providing successful immunogenicity in about 95% of vaccinated persons. Dryvax has serious adverse side-effects in about 1% to 2% of cases.[15]

    Before its discontinuation, it was the world’s oldest smallpox vaccine, created in the late 19th century by American Home Products, a predecessor of Wyeth. By the 1940s, Wyeth was the leading U.S. manufacturer of the vaccine and the only manufacturer by the 1960s. After world health authorities declared smallpox had been eradicated from nature in 1980, Wyeth stopped making the vaccine.[16] The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) kept a stockpile for use in case of emergency. In 2003 this supply helped contain an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States.[3] In February 2008, the CDC disposed of the last of its 12 million doses of Dryvax.


  3. devlynh says

    I believe you are referring to Hanlon’s Razon “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”

  4. Walter Solomon says

    In comic book universes, goofy fuck ups like this is what creates new superheroes and supervillains.

  5. raven says

    That was my initial reaction.

    The mystery vial is most likely to be the smallpox vaccine Vaccinia, rather than the smallpox virus itself.
    That being said, one would rather know than guess based on probabilities and hope

  6. lumipuna says

    This is like a joke about work at bioscience research facilities, where you’re likely to run into ancient ghosts while cleaning up some freezer space.

  7. hemidactylus says

    Well at least a vaccine has been developed for smallpox already and monkeypox too, which keeps insinuating itself into the news.

    “Past data from Africa suggests that smallpox vaccine is at least 85% effective in preventing monkeypox… Experts also believe that vaccination after a monkeypox exposure may help prevent the disease or make it less severe… Smallpox vaccine is not currently available to the general public. In the event of another outbreak of monkeypox in the U.S., CDC will establish guidelines explaining who should be vaccinated.”

  8. Walter Solomon says

    chrislawson @10

    If Marvel’s films continue to fall flat, we just might get a Poxman film.

  9. Ridana says

    Why is law enforcement involved? They’ll just confiscate the vials, take them to the bomb range, and blow them up.

  10. Brian Lieske says

    Reminds me of a amusing story from my high school. There was a T-shaped “science wing” of four classrooms added to the school at some point (the library was on the floor above), two on each side with storerooms in between (other fun bit of trivia, it’s seen as an exterior in John Water’s SERIAL MOM). In addition to the science teachers, there was an aide who managed all of the equipment and supplies. I don’t recall her name, but she was a very nice, kindly, elderly woman who stood about 5’2″ and was 90 pounds soaking wet holding a rock.
    At some point, I think a few years after I graduated, a directive came out from the Board of Education to check stores for some dangerous (explosive and unstable) chemical that had been part of the regular stock from many moons prior when you could buy play nuclear reactors at the toy store. Being very good and conscientious at her job, she read the memo and said, “I think we have that somewhere,” and proceeded to find it. Every fire truck in the county and the bomb squad showed up to dispose of it.
    Her comment on the operation was that she’d been taking the bottle down every year for the last 30 years to dust it.

  11. raven says

    NYTimes 11/19/2021

    C.D.C. Says ‘Smallpox’ Vials Found in Lab Did Not Contain Disease-Causing Virus
    In a new statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the vials found in a Pennsylvania lab contained vaccinia, the virus used in the smallpox vaccine.

    I was right.
    The vials contained Vaccinia, the vaccine virus.

    Careless labeling.

  12. wzrd1 says

    Fortunately, the sample in question can only kill up to 1% of those exposed to it. The sample was tested and found to be vaccinia, not variola.
    Vaccinia is literally our most dangerous vaccine and is now only administered to military and public health responders. Fortunately, there are treatments to lower that 1% to nearly 0%, courtesy of military research.