Unethical to test anthrax vaccine in kids? What panel says

AP

AP

(CBS/AP) Ten years following deadly anthrax attacks in the U.S., health officials are mulling whether to test an anthrax vaccine on children in case a future attack occurs.

Anthrax! Deadly mail attack 10 years later (GRAPHIC IMAGES)

On Friday an advisory board said if it can overcome some ethical issues, the vaccine can be tested in children to be sure it's safe - and to learn the proper dose needed for children in the event of an attack. Because of terror concerns, a vaccine has been stockpiled - but it's only been tested on adults.

The question is whether to do tests so doctors will know if children's immune systems respond to the shots. The children would not be exposed to anthrax.

A separate review board should look into the ethical issues of doing such tests in children, the National Biodefense Science Board said Friday. If that is completed successfully, the Department of Health and Human Services should develop a plan to study the vaccine in children, the board said. The board gives advice to the HHS on preparations for chemical, biological and nuclear events. Its vote was 12-1.

"Protecting children still stands, for me, among the most important responsibilities that we have as a nation," said Dr. Nicole Lurie, a member of the board and assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Public Health Service.

There is no deadline for the government to decide whether to go along with the board's recommendation. If it does agree, it's not clear how much time it would take to find money for such research and get clearance to conduct studies.

One big question: Would parents sign their kid up to test the vaccine without a real threat?

It's not possible to get anthrax from the vaccine, but there are side effects, including shot-site soreness, muscle aches, fatigue and headache. Some rare but serious allergic reactions have been reported.

The attacks of 2001, where anthrax-containing letters were sent to the media and others, claimed five lives and sickened 17.

The FBI has blamed the attacks on Bruce Ivins, a scientist at an Army biodefense laboratory, but he committed suicide before he could be charged.

Anthrax can be tough to treat, especially if someone has breathed anthrax spores. Millions of antibioitic doses have been stockpiled since the 2001 episode, and two experimental toxin-clearing treatments are also being stored.

Since 1998, more than 1 million have been vaccinated. U.S. troops deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and some other countries are required to get anthrax vaccines.

Click here to learn more about the deadly anthrax attacks 10 years ago.

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