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   Brit Vets Say Anthrax Vaccine May Have Been Thrown Overboard

Brit Vets Say Anthrax Vaccine May Have Been Thrown Overboard

by Alice Cherbonnier

On Tues., Jan. 21, The Sun ran one of its tantalizing buried tidbits, this time on the back page of the news section at the very bottom of the right-hand column. “Anthrax vaccines found on beach in England,” the head for the two-inch item read.

Now come on, Sun people! Can’t you smell a really interesting story here?

So many questions to ask, so little space, so little time.... Just sticking to the basics, questions that come to mind are: How much vaccine are we talking? Who did it? How did the perpetrators gain access to it? Who manufactured the vaccine? How much of a supply remains? Is the US supplying vaccine for its own troops? What security measures are put in place to assure the safety—not to mention safe arrival—of vaccines and medicines to be administered to the troops assembling along the Iraq border?

This story received (and deserved) major coverage by the British news media. Mike Wendling, London Bureau Chief, wrote on Jan. 23, “A veterans' organization says a stockpile of anthrax vaccine found on a British beach may have been thrown overboard deliberately by sailors deploying to the Persian Gulf.”

Now, why would they do such a thing? Because, perhaps, many Gulf War vets complained of medical problems (“Gulf War Syndrome”) they attributed to the vaccine a decade ago?

But the story could be more complicated than that. Jim Moore, a spokesman for the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association (NGVFA), told Mr. Wendling, "For anything to be accidentally washed overboard on an aircraft carrier is highly unusual." "Hundreds, possibly thousands" of anthrax vaccine doses were found on the beach in Dorset, southern England. The doses were numbered, and it’s expected authorities would be able to trace the vaccine to whatever ship if fell off of. There’s no danger to the public from this curious burial at sea, because the vaccine—developed in the 19th century by Louis Pasteur—does not contain live cultures.

Turns out the Brits are quite proud of their anthrax vaccine, which the Royal Society of Edinburgh brags is the only such licensed vaccine in the world. It’s made at the Centre for Applied Microbiology & Research (CAMR) at Porton Down, which supplies Britain’s Ministry of Defence. The Brits recently anted up over two million pounds to rebuild and refurbish their vaccine production unit.

What a relief to know there is a reliable vaccine available. The sole US supplier—a privately owned company called Bioport, located in Michigan—has a sole-source contract with the US Dept. of Defense to supply anthrax vaccine for all US military personnel, but alas, the plant has not passed muster from the FDA. As the Royal Society of Edinburgh politely puts it, “The US vaccine, which is similar to but distinct from the UK vaccine, is not currently available due to difficulties with manufacture.”

One more question needs to be asked: Are the Brits manufacturing and supplying enough vaccine for all the troops massing around Iraq?

Perhaps the Sun would like to look into that.

Reference, more info.:

Anthrax Vaccine May Have Been Thrown Overboard, Vets Say;
Scottish Scientist leads team in development of Anthrax Vaccine;
PART IV: The Potential Downsides of the Anthrax Vaccine;
CDC Disease Information

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This story was published on February 10, 2003.
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