Test of anthrax vaccine in children gets tentative OK

by Sharon Begley, Reuters.com  |  published on March 21, 2013

anthrax

A presidential ethics panel has opened the door to testing an anthrax vaccine on children as young as infants, bringing an angry response from critics who say the children would be guinea pigs in a study that would never help them and might harm them.

The report, however, released on Tuesday by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, said researchers would have to overcome numerous hurdles before launching an anthrax-vaccine trial in children. It now goes to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who will decide whether to take the steps the commission recommended.

The one anthrax vaccine approved in the United States, called BioThrax, is made by Emergent BioSolutions Inc of Rockville, Maryland. The company reported $215.9 million in sales of BioThrax, its only licensed product, in 2012.

The ethics commission took up the issue after a biodefense panel recommended in 2011 that the anthrax vaccine be tested in children. That endorsement, by the National Biodefense Science Board, came with the caveat that such a study also get the go-ahead from a bioethics panel.

It did, albeit conditionally.

“We have to get this precisely right,” panel Chair Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, said at a news conference. “Many significant steps would have to be taken” before a pediatric anthrax vaccine trial could be considered, she said. But she added that it is important “to develop the knowledge needed to save children’s lives” in the event of an anthrax attack.

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