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PANEL VOTES TO DESTROY LAST OF SMALLPOX VIRUS

After a reprieve, the smallpox virus seems headed for destruction after all.

In a decision that seems to spell the end for the last remaining stocks of smallpox virus, a 10-member committee of the World Health Organization recommended unanimously Friday that the virus be destroyed on June 30, 1995.The committee's recommendation now goes to the executive committee of the WHO, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, and will be put to the full membership at its annual meeting next May.

But Dr. Frank Fenner, chairman of the smallpox committee, said he expect the recommendation to be accepted, particularly because it was unanimous. Fenner, an expert in smallpox from the John Curtin School of Medical Research of the Australian National University in Canberra, spoke in a telephone interview.

The virus, once slated for destruction on Dec. 31, 1993, had received a one-year stay of execution to allow WHO to consider a groundswell of opposition, primarily from scientists in the United States. But Friday's vote was unanimous, as had been previous votes, although two members favored delaying the execution for five years.

Those favoring destruction of the virus say the risk that samples could escape from the laboratory or fall into terrorists' hands outweighs the potential scientific value of keeping the virus for future research.

Existing stocks are stored in freezers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and at the Research Institute for Viral Preparation in Moscow.