US to test anthrax vaccine in children... maybe

by Debora MacKenzie

The US National Biodefense Science Board has told the US government that to prepare for a bioterrorist attack it should test a decades-old anthrax vaccine in children, as its effects in the young are unknown.

In the event of an anthrax attack, the oral antibiotic ciprofloxacin can save lives by killing anthrax bacteria in the lungs. But a few anthrax spores may lurk and germinate weeks later, so people must stay on the drug for 60 days – and this can result in nasty side effects.

Vaccinating people immediately after exposure also kills late-germinating spores, so permits shorter antibiotic treatments. The US has stockpiled anthrax vaccine for precisely this purpose – but no one has ever tested what vaccine doses are effective and safe in children. A quarter of the US population is aged under 18.

The National Biodefense Science Board was asked last April to advise whether the existing anthrax vaccine should be tested in children before any attack, or simply given as an emergency measure if needed, while data is gathered on safety and response. They voted for the first option last week.


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