Vaccine To Burn

Rumor has it that there was a time when it was stylish for Robber Barons to light their cigars with $100 bills, and this was at a time when a $100 was serious money.

In the not to distant future, your federal government is going to revive this practice, except this time it will be burning up 6.9 million doses of anthrax vaccine, valued at $150,000,000. That will be your tax dollars (1,500,000 $100 bills) going up in smoke. If the story ended there, it would be troubling, but wait, it gets far worse.

Anthrax is generally considered one of the most likely pathogens bioterrorists will use. Destroying 6.9 million life-saving doses is not just an incredible waste of money, it means your federal government will be reducing America’s capability to respond to a biological attack. It means your family will be less secure. Surely, this won’t happen.

Don’t bet on it.

It is critically important that America maintain supplies of vaccines and antibiotics to protect us against what the WMD Commission called the most likely threat. Everything the federal government buys to defend us, whether it is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a stealthy bomber, main battle tank, or vaccines and therapeutics have an expected life span. Sometimes they are extended, like some USAF airplanes that have been flown by three generations of pilots. On the other hand, there are limits to service-life and shelf-life extensions. In that case, we send them to the bone yard or the incinerator. That is part of the cost of national defense. Personally, I like it when we don’t have to use these offensive and defensive devices.

On the other hand, destroying vaccine on its expiration date when the feds could have found better solutions is disturbing. What options exist?

1. Could the shelf life be extended? If not, I would like to know why. Is it really ineffective or dangerous to use one day after its expiration date? Is the science that exact?

2. If shelf-life extension is not possible, could we keep the vaccine in the stockpile to use in case of emergency? There is precedence for emergency use medical countermeasures. Maybe vaccine that is one or two years beyond the normal shelf life would only be 80 percent effective–that would be better during a crisis than no vaccine at all.

3. Could we offer it to first responders–on a strictly voluntary basis–prior to the expiration date? Most of the U.S military have their anthrax vaccines and will be able to respond into a city that is contaminated with anthrax spores. (Anthrax is virtually the only pathogen that presents a long-term contamination problem.) But the military is awfully busy these days. Wouldn’t it also be helpful if public health and medical personnel, police, and fire fighters are protected and able to respond during a crisis?

The House Homeland Security Committee introduced a bill this spring calling for a serious look at option 3, but so far, the legislation is stalled, and time is running out.

Bottom line: It appears as if the federal government is fiddling while good vaccine will be burning and America will be less prepared.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is a perfectly good reason why the government will soon destroy 6.9 million doses of life-saving vaccines. If so, I hope someone in the government will write back to explain the reasons to this taxpayer. I will most certainly publish it. I would like to be proven wrong.

About biosecureblog

Colonel Randall Larsen, USAF (Ret) -CEO, WMD Center -former Executive Director, Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism -former chairman, Department of Military Strategy and Operations, National War College
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