Project EQUIPP aims to protect first responders to bioattacks

As leading bioterrorism experts voice concern about the safety of first responders in anthrax-related situations, the Project Equal Immunization Policies and Practices announced support this week for an anthrax vaccine initiative that could allay their fears.

Project EQUIPP was started in 2008 and is affiliated with the Institute of Biosecurity at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

Dr. Thomas Zink, adjunct associate professor at the school and the director of Project EQUIPP, said that the anthrax vaccine should be offered to potentially exposed professionals to prevent potential harm from occurring to first responders, the Examiner reports.

"We did not imagine that Personal Protection Equipment might fail six out of nine HAZMET responders at the Hart Senate Office anthrax attack on Senator Daschle's staff," Zink said, according to the Examiner. "These six were infected despite the use of PPE's. The Daschle attack did have a defined hot-zone area but the anthrax weapon is invisible, odorless, tasteless and easily re-aerosolized. As a result, the infected HAZMAT professionals were unable to demarcate the safe zone in which to don the PPE."

Because inhalation anthrax has a high fatality rate of 75 percent even with appropriate care, tens of thousands of first responders may risk their lives should their be a deadly attack if they are not vaccinated and not aware of the risk.

"Not vaccinating our frontline of protectors before an attack is clearly unscientific and detrimental to the goal of achieving local community resilience," Zink said, according to the Examiner.

Project EQUIPP has assisted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization in its support for offering the anthrax vaccine "for persons involved in emergency response activities including but not limited to police departments, fire departments, hazardous material units, government responders and the National Guard," the Examiner reports.

Because the CDC does not have the legal or statutory authority to sell or donate the anthrax vaccine to non-profit entities or state, city or county governments, Project EQUIPP is currently looking to partner with civic minded philanthropists along with corporate and private foundations to promote solutions to this issue at the state and local levels.