Bio-Weapons: Creating the Next Generation of Anthrax Vaccine
by Jim Kouri, CPP
(The following commentary is based on a report received by the National Association of Chiefs of Police from the Department of Homeland Security.)
The threat of bio-terrorism has long been recognized in the United States and abroad. The Department of Defense considers inhalation anthrax to be the greatest biological warfare threat to US military forces.
The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has been conducting basic and applied research on biological threats since 1969, in order to develop medical countermeasures -- prophylactics, vaccines, medical diagnostics -- to protect US military personnel in the midst of combat.
The anthrax incidents in 2001 highlighted major gaps in civilian preparedness to detect and respond to anthrax attacks, leading the federal government to focus on developing new drugs, vaccines, and therapeutics to protect US citizens.
As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services now has major responsibility to ensure that appropriate medical countermeasures are available for civilians. And the Department of Homeland Security assumes major responsibility for coordinating federal responses to national incidents of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear release.
Despite the many recommendations the General Accountability Office has made over the past few years regarding problems related to the anthrax vaccine's safety and effectiveness and the reliability of anthrax detection, deficiencies remain. While agencies have taken steps in the right direction, the government still lacks a strategic plan outlining how individual agency would respond to a bio-attack.
In November 2004, HHS awarded a contract for $877.5 million to procure 75 million doses of a new anthrax vaccine -- the first contract awarded under Project Bioshield for medical countermeasures procurement. The terms of the award state that the urgency of the current threat requires an accelerated pace of vaccine development, testing, approval, and procurement.
While developing vaccine is known to be difficult and highly likely to encounter testing and production issues in the best of circumstances, the contract's milestones leave little room for slippage from established delivery dates. The biotechnology sector is watching to see if government and industry can make this partnership work.
Understanding the unique issues in this early phase of the bio-defense strategy is important. Problems with this initial Project Bioshield contract could affect the biotechnology industry's response to future government overtures to develop and procure medical countermeasures against the many other bio-threat agents still to be addressed.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.