HHS Approves Voluntary Anthrax Vaccine Program
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced yesterday that about 3,000 congressional and postal workers who were potentially exposed to anthrax earlier this fall will be offered the anthrax vaccine, as well as 40 additional days of antibiotic treatment, to "kill any living spores still present in their bodies," USA Today reports. The 60-day regimen of antibiotics that these workers were administered after anthrax-laden letters passed through the mail system in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., is set to end this weekend (Manning/Sternberg, USA Today, 12/19). The decision to offer the vaccine "reflects growing unease that antibiotics may not be sufficient protection against a disease that scientists know very little about," the Washington Post reports. The relatively few animal studies conducted on anthrax have shown that spores can linger in the lungs for up to 98 days (Connolly/Vedantam, Washington Post, 12/19). Top federal health officials "steered clear of recommending the vaccine," the New York Times reports. Thompson said he chose to make the vaccine available "out of an abundance of caution" (Stolberg/Rosenbaum, New York Times, 12/19).