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U.S. To Stockpile Anthrax Vaccine

President Clinton will order the stockpiling of antibiotics and vaccines for civilian protection in the event of biological warfare, says a senior administration official.

Mr. Clinton will announce the order in a commencement speech Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., the official said.

The focus of the address will be domestic threats such as biological weapons, terrorism, and possible penetration of the Internet, said the official, insisting on anonymity.

He said Mr. Clinton would direct that adequate resource be maintained for civilians in case of germ warfare.

Smallpox and anthrax are considered among the biggest potential biological weapon threats in the U.S. Both diseases incubate for several days or weeks, making it hard to spot an outbreak even if doctors recognize early symptoms, which can mimic the flu.

Anthrax is treatable only when caught early. Only the military has a vaccine now. Americans are not vaccinated against smallpox anymore, but about 8 million vaccine doses are stockpiled.

Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told Congress last month that U.S. cities and towns remain vulnerable to chemical and biological terrorism despite recent efforts to improve protections.

"We need to make sure we have a significant stockpile - and I don't think we do - of vaccines and other medications," Reno told members of the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees.

Freeh said an anthrax scare last February in Las Vegas served as a "dress rehearsal" that taught some important lessons. Two men were arrested Feb. 18 on suspicion of having deadly weapons-grade anthrax. The charges were dropped five days later when the material was found to be a veterinary vaccine.

An administration review of how the U.S. would respond to a biological or chemical weapon attack from terrorists has been under way for about a year.

Concern swelled among U.S. officials in March 1995, when a Japanese cult carried out a lethal nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 and injuring 5,000.

Later that year, Iraq admitted having built a large arsenal of biological weapons, and said it had been ready to use it four years earlier during the Gulf War.

Written by Terence Hunt