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Time to vaccinate kids for anthrax?

Millions of U.S. military personnel have been given the anthrax vaccine, which wards off lethal infection. But no one's sure if the vaccine will even work on kids

Better safe than sorry? The U.S. government is mulling the idea of testing healthy children with a vaccine meant to protect against potential bioterrorism attacks. The anthrax vaccine in question has already been tested on adults and given to more than 2.6 million people in the military. But critics worry that testing the vaccine on kids could be dangerous. Here's what you need to know:

How does anthrax work again?
Anthrax is a potentially lethal infection "caused by a bacteria which is relatively easy to produce and distribute," says Britain's Daily Mail. People can become infected by touching the bacteria, inhaling it, or ingesting it — making anthrax a prime weapon for bioterrorism. In the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation was gripped with fear when letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to media and senate offices, killing five people.

What are the government's options in this case?
That's a "thorny question," says Rob Stein at The Washington Post. But there are effectively just two ways to go about testing the vaccine. One would be to inject healthy children and "see whether the shots would safely protect them against a bioterrorism attack." The other would be "to wait until an attack happens and then try to gather data from children whose parents agree to inoculate them in the face of an actual threat."

What is the argument against testing kids?
"There are a slew of ethical questions associated with testing any drug on children," says Kristen Philipkoski at Gizmodo. It's "rarely done and has been ruled unlawful in certain cases by a U.S. judge. When it comes to something as risky as the anthrax vaccine, the questions are only magnified." What sort of parent is going to let their kids become an anthrax lab rat?

And the argument in favor?
If the vaccine were tested on kids and proven to be safe, parents might be more willing to inoculate their children. But for now, the safety, dosage, and effectiveness of using the anthrax vaccine on a child is unknown, says United Press International. "There is a lot of skepticism on the part of the public about vaccines" already, says Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in charge of bioterrorism. "If you had a situation where a vaccine has never been given to a child, it's pretty hard to think what you could say to people about its safety and efficacy."

Sources: Daily Mail, UPI, Washington Post

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