Government panel debates protecting children from bioterrorism

A presidential panel for the Obama Administration will help to decide if the anthrax vaccine and other stockpiled treatments for bioterrorism should be tested on children.

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, said that officials cannot simply assume that treatments for adults will work in children. Sebelius recommended that the nation develop protection for children in a way that makes childhood safety the top priority, Associated Press reports.

Debate over whether or not to open anthrax vaccine pediatric studies prompted Sebelius to request the Presidential Commission that the Study of Bioethical Issues to take on the controversy. According to Sebelius, the issue involves more than just anthrax.

If studies to test the vaccine were to be offered, there is no way to know how many parents would consent to enrolling their children. While treatments for cancer and other childhood disease are tested in a fairly straightforward manner, if a child won't receive a direct medical benefit from a study, the risks to participating children must be made as minimal as possible. The National Biodefense Safety Board recommended child testing of the anthrax vaccine this past fall, but only if outside ethical experts agreed that the studies could be done in an appropriate way.

The commission will start its deliberations on Thursday and its recommendations are anticipated by the end of the year, according to Associated Press.