Pregnant women to be vaccinated against anthrax in event of an attack

Mothers who breast feed and pregnant women are now advised to be vaccinated for anthrax in the case of a terrorist attack that uses the disease in its aerosolized form, according to updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The newly released guidelines, issued by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, are the first update since 2002 and have been issued despite an acknowledged limited understanding of the vaccine’s potentially adverse side effects.

The ACIP said, according to the Emerging Health Forum, that this step has been taken due to the extreme danger posed by anthrax infection. It is considered to be one of the deadliest agents of bioterrorism, killing up to 89 percent of those who are infected by inhalation.

“ACIP concluded that AVA [anthrax vaccine adsorbed] is safe to administer during pregnancy but recommended that pregnant women defer vaccination unless exposure to anthrax poses an immediate risk for disease,” wrote Jennifer Wright and her colleagues from the CDC in the center’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Women are instructed to receive three doses of the vaccine and to take 60 days worth of antimicrobial drugs. The same advice has been issued to children in high risk situations and adults who have not been vaccinated.

Eric Toner, Senior Associate at the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC in Pennsylvania, believes that two potential obstacles will be encountered in implementing the new guidelines. He told the Emerging Health Forum that the side effects from antibiotics, though minor, would be uncomfortable enough for women to not take the full course, and that safety concerns over the vaccine, though mostly unfounded, will also present a problem.

In considering the recommendations, the CDC referred to a study conducted in 2008 that examined the link between pregnant women in the military that were accidentally given the vaccine and birth defects. The study found a slightly higher number of birth defects, particularly atrial septal defect, in those inoculated in the first trimester. The association was not statistically significant when the women were compared to those vaccinated outside the first trimester.