U.S. to examine how to protect children from bioterror attack

The U.S. administration recently announced its plans to examine how best to protect children from a bioterrorist attack, including the risks and benefits of current methods used to treat exposure to bioterror agents, such as anthrax.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is conducting the review in response to a request from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, according to Slate.com.

Sebelius' request comes as a response to a recent debate over testing the safety and efficacy of the anthrax vaccine, which has remained controversial among adult service members, on children. Although the vaccine has been tested on adults and thousands of military personnel have been vaccinated, there is no guarantee that it will be safe in children.

Issues relating to the testing of vaccines in children can become very complex. Children cannot give informed consent, which complicates testing procedures. Furthermore, parents may be reluctant to allow their children to participate, because the chances of an anthrax attack appear small, according to the Washington Post.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University found that depending on their genetic makeup, people react very differently to anthrax exposure. Some are not affected at all, while others are dramatically so, according to Scientific American.

Though instigated by the anthrax question, it is likely the commission meeting will look at the larger issue of how to gather information on protecting children from a bioterror attack.