Those at High Risk Will Get Anthrax Vaccine

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 26, 2001 -- Health officials at the CDC said Friday it will give the anthrax vaccine to workers believed to be at high risk of exposure, according to a report by CNN.

Those who will be eligible for immunization are criminal investigators and members of decontamination crews. To date, the vaccine is given only to laboratory workers who handle the bacterium that causes the disease and military personnel, who may come in contact with the organism as a biological weapon.

CDC may include some U.S. postal workers in its new vaccination policy as well.

The vaccine was approved by the FDA in 1970. It is made from a bacterial strain that cannot cause the disease. It is designed to expose the immune system to pieces of the germ that don't cause illness but still can trigger the response to make antibodies to fight the disease should an exposure occur.

Generally, the vaccine is given on an extensive schedule. It's given once and then again two weeks later and then again after a month. More vaccine is then given at the six-month and one-year point. Then there is a yearly booster to maintain immunity.

Those who have had bad reactions to the vaccine or who have had exposure to the germ usually are not given the vaccine.

So far, the vaccine is not intended to be used as a treatment for anthrax. In a press conference Friday, CDC officials said that being exposed to the germ triggers a greater immune response than the vaccine.

"So the emphasis right now is on preventing disease and using the vaccine for that purpose," said Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, and acting deputy director for the National Center for Infectious Diseases.

People who have had known exposure to the anthrax bacterium are usually given antibiotics, such as Cipro or doxycycline. There are concerns with possible side effects in children and pregnant women, however, so doctors generally would determine if the strain of germ would be sensitive to penicillin and then use that antibiotic, which is known to be safe.