Are there vaccines or antibiotics currently available to protect against the threat of biological weapons?
The Pediatrician Answers:
There is a small amount of anthrax vaccine available; it is generally used only for certain exposed individuals. There is certainly not enough for the general population, nor is it recommended for general use.
The current supply of smallpox vaccine is also limited and there is no recommendation at present for resumption of routine smallpox vaccination. Smallpox vaccination does have a moderate complication rate, as does anthrax vaccination. Your regular physician will NOT be able to obtain either of these vaccines, by the way, so don’t demand them.
There is currently no vaccine against plague, Ebola virus, or any other of the potential bioterrorism agents. I hope and pray that should revaccination with smallpox become advisable, that a sufficient supply of vaccine will be produced and made available through the current medical system.
The risk of bioterrorism, although perhaps much more on our minds than before Sept 11, is not as great as the risk of a child contracting one of the illnesses we DO immunize against. Measles still kills lots of children in developing nations; several countries in Africa are still struggling with paralytic polio; there are a few deaths per year here in the USA from complications of chickenpox; chronic hepatitis B infection regularly leads to liver cancer; Hemophilus influenzae and Pneumococcus infections can still cause meningitis in young children; and influenza causes as many hospitalizations each year in young children in the USA as it does in the elderly. So, try to live with hope and do get the routine childhood shots for your kids in the meantime.
Linda Shaw, MD, FAAP