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Team New Zealand usually conjures up a vision of our latest Americas Cup boat. But now, Team New Zealand represents the 5 million Kiwis who have so diligently locked down to lock to lockout COVID-19.

Eradicating a virus is not impossible. It has been done before. The smallpox virus stalked, killed, blinded and disfigured millions of people for 3000 years. Although Edward Jenner developed a successful vaccine, smallpox was stilll infecting around 50 million people annually in the 1950s.

In 1953 at the annual World Health Assembly, governments discussed whether or not the smallpox virus could be eliminated. They lacked the will at this time to launch a campaign as many doubted it would succeed.

So why, in 1959, did the WHO member states agree unanimously to start a global campaign to eradicate smallpox?

The vision and leadership

It took leadership from Viktor Zhdanov, an epidemiologist, who happened to be the deputy health minister of the Soviet Union. He had seen how smallpox could be contained in the Soviet Union and saw no reason why this success could not be repeated.

So apart from leadership, what other ingredients formed the recipe for success?

The will

Once goverments realised that eradication was possible, they had the will to support the campaign. 50 million smallpox infections a year made sure of that.


There was already an effective vaccine (thanks to Edward Jenner), by the time the campaign started. However, Zhdanov knew that unless the smallpox vaccine was freeze-dried it would not be possible to get the vaccine to all countries. So this was the technology used in making the vaccine.

Other technology was developed too - a hydraulic-powered injector, capable of injecting 1000 people per hour. It had the tendency to break down so it was eventually replaced by an industrial sewing machine needle – using the eye not the point to deliver the vaccine.


Edward Jenner’s work on establishing a vaccine for smallpox formed the foundation to eradicate the disease. Despite the vaccine being available, it was only when it could be freeze-dried, that it was possible to transport it to the far reaches of the globe.

Originally, the strategy was to vaccinate everyone possible, aiming for at least 80% of the population to give herd immunity.

As you can imagine, in highly populated countries, such as India, trying to vaccinate the expected 20 million newborn babies each year, as well as the general population, would not be possible.

However, another leader emerged, Dr. William Foege. Working in eastern Nigeria with his team, by vaccinating everyone located in the radius of an outbreak, he prevented the spread of the disease and shutdown smallpox outbreaks within 5 months. Vaccinating only 750,000 of a population of around 12 million demonstrated that surveillance-containment could work.


Having sufficient resources generally means having sufficient funds to provide those resources. At times lack of funding looked likely to derail the campaign. But, in 1965 President Johnson announced the US would support a programme to eradicate smallpox from 20 African counties. He also sent a top American epidemiologist to head the WHO eradication unit. And in 1966 governments secured annual funding of US$2.4 million.

Teams and Team New Zealand

This campaign required many teams of ably lead people, as well as robust communications processes to make it work. And work it did. In May 1980, The World Health Assembly was able to confirm that smallpox had been eradicated.

In New Zealand, on a national level, Team New Zealand is following a proven, successful path. We have vision, and we are very ably lead. Information is available and clear. We know what we need to do to beat COVID-19.

On a business level, some businesses have been able to continue business as usual with some minor tweaks. But many businesses cannot operate as usual. While the government offers some help, this help alone cannot solve every issue or every business’ problems.

Business leaders throughout New Zealand are having to step up and be innovative, agile, problem solvers with a vision for the future. Think about the smallpox eradication campaign. It needed a vision, a leader, the will to succeed, technology, a strategy, resources and a good team. If you’ve got all of these under control, your business will not succumb to COVID-19.

As for getting operating protocols in place while we are in Alert Level 3 and hopefully, soon in Alert Level 2, there is help available on MBIE’s website:

If you need help writing your own protocols, WritersInc will be more than happy to oblige.

If you would like to find out more about the smallpox eradication campaign, follow this link.