Federal Government To Purchase 75 Million Doses of Experimental Anthrax Vaccine
The government is preparing to purchase 75 million doses of an experimental anthrax vaccine to inoculate 25 million people in case "terrorists launched a broad assault" on U.S. cities, according to documents released on Thursday, the Washington Post reports. Two biotechnology companies, California-based VaxGen and U.K.-based Avecia, won earlier contracts totaling almost $200 million to make a stockpile of the vaccine to inoculate two million people. The companies likely will bid on the larger contracts, which could be worth as much as $700 million. According to the Post, while there has been "little commercial incentive for companies to develop a modern anthrax vaccine," the new contracts will provide enough vaccine within a year or two "to immunize everyone in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas." Coupled with the Bush administration's success in stockpiling enough smallpox vaccine to inoculate every U.S. citizen, the purchase of the anthrax vaccine means that the "United States will soon have developed a wide array of defenses against the two most important biological weapons," the Post reports. The stockpile, which in addition to the previous contracts will be able to cover 9% of the country's population, primarily would be used to inoculate a city's population immediately following a terrorist attack, according to experts. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a preventive vaccination of a city probably would not take place soon, but vaccinations for at-risk occupational groups, such as postal workers and hazardous-materials teams, might be considered.
According to the Post, while it is "unusual for the government to buy such a large amount of vaccine while it's still experimental," NIH "is intent" on replacing the old vaccine, which "among numerous disadvantages" requires six doses over the course of 18 months. The Post reports that the new anthrax vaccine -- a "potent, highly purified replacement" for the old vaccine -- requires three or fewer doses over several weeks and is anticipated to include smaller amounts of an additive associated with side effects in the old vaccine. Although deliberately exposing humans to anthrax to test a vaccine is "unethical," FDA has rules that allow it to approve a bioterror inoculation on the basis of animal testing, according to the Post (Gillis, Washington Post, 3/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.