First responders may be given anthrax vaccinations in new pilot program

A pilot program by the Department of Homeland Security may be launched to provide first responders with anthrax vaccinations by early 2013.

Alexander Garza, Homeland Security's chief medical officer and assistant secretary for health affairs, said that the trial program could debut "early next year" but declined to discuss timing any further, CIDRAP News reports.

"We've been working on this very diligently," Garza said, according to CIDRAP News. "The last time I was briefed, we were starting to put the final touches on it so we could start reaching out to states and locals to find out who would be interested in local pilot projects."

The vaccine would be offered only to those jurisdictions that were deemed to be at risk for anthrax attacks.

"We want pilot projects to be instruments of success, so an area has to be an at-risk place," Garza said, CIDRAP News reports. "They also have to have a robust infrastructure. People have talked to us about participating, and some are much farther along in setting up that infrastructure than others are."

The first steps in offering the anthrax vaccination to first responders were taken in 2008 when the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reversed an eight year recommendation against the vaccinations.

Additionally, a proposal was set forth in April by the Obama administration to dispense unused federal anthrax vaccine supplies to emergency personnel who would be the first on the scene in the event of an attack. State and local health officials would then be given the option to accept the vaccine, which is currently administered to military personnel serving in high-risk areas.