Published on Thursday, September 20, 2001
U.S. Short of Vaccine for Deadly Anthrax
It's the biological weapon most feared by military
by Elena Murphy
The United States is planning a war with terrorists at the height of a vaccine shortage for anthrax - the biological weapon most feared by the military.
BioPort Corporation, the only anthrax vaccine laboratory licensed by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, is the sole source of the vaccine for the American military - and the prime source for Canada's armed forces - but it hasn't produced any new doses since it was privatized from a state-run facility in late 1998.
The laboratory, based in Lansing, Mich., has been unable to pass rigorous FDA inspections of its product, a BioPort spokesperson has confirmed.
``Of all the biological threats, anthrax is the easiest to produce and the easiest to weaponize,'' said Jim Turner, spokesperson for the U.S. Defense Department.
``When we went into Iraq after the war, we discovered all kinds of anthrax production. There are up to 10 countries around the globe that either have been working on it or have the capacity for it.''
Despite American fears of biological warfare, it is not clear whether suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden has access to anthrax. Military officials, however, believe he is testing some chemical and biological weapons.
Despite a laboratory in Britain that also produces the anthrax vaccine, the Michigan facility the only option for the American military, said Turner. ``We will only provide FDA-approved vaccines to American forces.''
Last fall, the U.S. Defense Department was sufficiently short of the anthrax vaccine for its troops that it requested and received a loan of 23,000 doses from Canada's Department of National Defense - nearly the entire stockpile of Canada's most recent purchase from BioPort.
Documents obtained by The Star, show the United States reached an agreement with the Canadian military last Oct. 21 for the majority of Canada's latest vaccine stockpile.
The doses had been kept in cold storage at BioPort's laboratory, segregated from the United States' stock.
Canada bought 30,000 doses during the last vaccine sale - all of which was produced by the former state-run facility - in March, 1999. Six weeks later, Canada took possession of 3,000 doses and has not requested the remaining 4,000 doses stored at the lab, the documents say.
Canadian Forces spokesperson Ric Jones said Canada has an ``adequate quantity (of vaccine) on hand for any current and planned deployments.
Anthrax is a hardy spore-forming bacteria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, inhalation of anthrax, which is clear and tasteless when airborne, is usually fatal.
In the absence of vaccinations, strong antibiotics can be effective but only if anthrax is detected before symptoms arise and the drugs are taken immediately.
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