DHS testifies on pre-event anthrax vaccine distribution program

Representing the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Health Affairs, Principal Deputy Assistant James Polk spoke on Tuesday about a cooperative program between DHS and the CDC to develop an anthrax vaccine distribution network.

Polk said that the OHA has been working together with the CDC's Strategic National Stockpile since June to develop a program to provide expiring anthrax vaccines to federal, state and local agencies for voluntary pre-event vaccination of first responders.

"It is important to note that the federal government is not establishing a federal vaccination program for state and local responders, but rather providing an existing resource to states and localities who will implement the vaccination program within their jurisdictions," Polk said.

Before the program can be implemented, the DHS and the CDC will put together an 18 month pilot program with two federal and two local agencies. According to Polk, the pilot program is necessary to both help gauge demand for the vaccine, and to ensure that the program's methodology supports responsible vaccine use.

The statements came in response to House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Chairman Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), who commented that millions of doses of anthrax vaccine get thrown away each year as they approach expiration.

"It would seem entirely reasonable to make these supplies available to first responders prior to their expiration," Bilirakis said.