Current status of immunization against anthrax: old vaccines may be here to stay for a while

Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2000 Apr;13(2):113-120. doi: 10.1097/00001432-200004000-00004.


Anthrax vaccination has become a 'hot' topic. On the one hand, fears that Iraq holds secret caches of anthrax-based weaponry, that other countries may be developing or may have developed similar devices, or that hard-line groups may make their own anthrax-based devices for bioterrorist attacks have focused official attention on the need for means of protection, principally, though, for the military. On the other hand, the unsolved issues of the Gulf War illnesses have left elements of doubt in the minds of some as to the possible role of anthrax (among other) vaccines in this syndrome, and have drawn attention to the shortage of pre-clinical, clinical, pharmacological and safety data on the existing UK and US anthrax vaccines. In the middle are those hotly debating the US and Canadian policies of mandatory anthrax immunization for military personnel or, in the case of the UK policy of voluntary immunization, simply voting with their feet. Compounding matters have been the publicized failures of the US vaccine production facility and the less publicized UK problems of supply. Meanwhile, those in genuine at-risk occupations are left unsure whether, if they can get the vaccine at all, they really want it. Despite two decades of elegant science aimed at formulating alternative vaccines to overcome all the problems of efficacy, safety and supply, such an alternative is at least five years away, and the current status is that we must live with the old vaccines or not vaccinate.