Update: The advisory board voted to move the process forward on Friday by asking a review committee to solve the ethical problem of injecting children with anthrax. “Protecting children still stands, for me, among the most important responsibilities that we have as a nation,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie (see below). In this case, “protecting” means injecting children who will probably face no threat of being exposed to anthrax with a vaccine that has caused the most fit Americans, its servicemen, such severe reactions as heart problems and diabetes. — BJ.
The Obama administration is considering injecting American children with an anthrax vaccine in an unprecedented scientific experiment that bioethicists say will unnecessarily endanger the youngsters’ lives and health. The National Biodefense Safety Board (NBSB), will vote today about whether the pediatric vaccinations should go forward. A smaller working group comprised of a whopping eight members endorsed the vaccinations in September.
Since 1998, more than a million people have been vaccinated, mostly servicemen stationed overseas. The vaccinations were temporarily halted by court order but continue today.
Following the 2001 Anthrax infections on Capitol Hill, which resulted in 18 infections and five deaths, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is also a physician, said:
There are very real and potentially serious side effects from the vaccine and anyone who elects to receive the vaccine needs to be made aware of that. I do not recommend widespread inoculation for people with the vaccine in the Hart Building. There are too many side effects and if there is limited chance of exposure the side effects would far outweigh any potential advantage.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in June 2007 that “some servicemembers who received the anthrax and smallpox vaccines” experienced “severe reactions such as migraines, heart problems, and the onset of diseases including diabetes and multiple sclerosis.”
The vaccine has never been tested on juveniles, and no one is certain how a child’s developing immune system will react. Experts believe they are more likely to have severe reactions than their military counterparts. In fact, scientists are unsure of the proper dosage to administer to children, whose parents would have to volunteer them for the research.
The proposal might seem moderately less objectionable if it achieved some concrete aim, but experts are unsure it will accomplish its advertised ends. Dr. Vicky L. Debold of George Mason University summarized the gaps in knowledge, even if the experiments take place. “We’ll know what antibody levels these infants produce, but do we know those antibodies are going to protect against death due to anthrax exposure?”
Bioethicist Art Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania said he is opposed to testing. “We may get, sadly, to that point some day,” he said, “but I don’t think we’re there yet.” Dr. Joel Frader of Northwestern University agreed, “It would be difficult to justify testing it on kids simply on the hypothetical possibility that there might be an attack.” Dr. Meryl Nass was more outspoken. “With this, you’re putting children at risk for no clear scientific or medical benefit,” she said.
Nonetheless, Obama appears poised to barrel forward. The NBSB chair, Daniel Fagbuyi of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, tipped the NBSB’s hat to the media earlier this week. “At the end of the day, do we want to wait for an attack and give it to millions and millions of children and collect data at that time?” he fearmongered. “Or do we want to say: ‘How do we best protect our children?’ We can take care of Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle and Auntie. But right now we have nothing for the children.”
Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for bioterrorism at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) heightened the fear, saying it was “socially irresponsible” to wait. “I would hate for a lot of children to die because we didn’t have enough information for the public to feel comfortable getting vaccine.”
The media have raised questions about the financial ties between the Democratic Party and the creator of one anthrax vaccine.
The only currently approved vaccine, BioThrax, was developed by Emergent BioSolutions. However, the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services steered at least $150 million in federal grants to the well-connected firm of PharmAthene, Inc. of Annapolis, Maryland, to develop a new anthrax vaccine called SparVax. PharmAthene donated $1,200 to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and $10,000 to other Democrats or the party itself from 2004-10. Its founder, Joel W. McCleary, is a former aide to Jimmy Carter and Democratic Party treasurer who donated $2,300 to Barack Obama in 2007. McCleary and his fellow executives in another of his ventures — Four Seasons Ventures, LLC — have proven most generous, donating at least $110,000 to Democratic Party candidates or organizations during the same time period. The government has prudently spent $1.1 billion stockpiling the vaccine.
HHS has since canceled a contract in which PharmAthene had to bid against Emergent Biosolutions (whose political donations span the political spectrum). The Associated Press reported this summer that PharmAthene “would be able to make 150 million doses of SparVax in a year, if necessary.”
What better reason for creating millions of doses, at federal expense, than the hope of future testing or widespread mandatory vaccination to “protect against terrorism”?
This is a case of crony capitalism. Solyndra with a needle.
Intuition tells me Sasha and Malia will not be among the guinea pigs for this great patriotic undertaking. Like attending D.C. public schools, that is a privilege Obama foists only upon other people’s children.
Dr. Anthony Robbins of Tufts University School of Medicine had a unique proposal: test the vaccine only on those with the security clearance to know if America faced a credible threat of an anthrax attack.
Instead, innocent American children will probably pay the price, perhaps with their health or their young lives.
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