Anthrax vaccine offer for first responders may begin in 2013

Sep 14, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may launch a pilot plan to offer anthrax vaccination to first responders early in 2013, a DHS official said at a congressional hearing yesterday.

In response to questions, Alexander Garza, MD, MPH, DHS's chief medical officer and assistant secretary for health affairs, was reluctant to discuss timing but said the trial program may be ready to debut "early next year."

In April the Obama administration unveiled the proposal to offer unused federal supplies of the vaccine to emergency personnel because they would probably be first on the scene in an anthrax attack. State and local health officials could choose to accept the vaccine doses or not, officials said at the time. The vaccine is currently given to military personnel who serve in high-risk areas, such as the Middle East.

At the hearing, Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., asked Garza about the status of the plans.

"We've been working on this very diligently," he said. "The last time I was briefed, we were starting to put the final touches on it so we could start reaching out to states and locals to find out who would be interested in local pilot projects."

Garza said the vaccine would be offered only to jurisdictions deemed to be at risk for anthrax attacks.

"We want pilot projects to be instruments of success, so an area has to be an at-risk place," he said. "They also have to have a robust infrastructure. People have talked to us about participating, and some are much farther along in setting up that infrastructure than others are."

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices opened the door to anthrax vaccination for first responders in 2008, when it reversed an 8-year recommendation against that step.

Yesterday's congressional hearing focused primarily on the federal BioWatch program for detecting airborne pathogens and bioterrorist attacks. It was sponsored by two House subcommittees that deal with homeland security.

See also:

Apr 9 CIDRAP News item about anthrax vaccination for first responders

Information about Sep 13 congressional committee hearing on BioWatch

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