It seems that Emergent BioSolutions, the only manufacturer of the anthrax vaccine in America, has been working aggressively to promote its vaccine throughout our nation. Its efforts have paid off: according to MarketWatch.com, the company has been awarded a $1.25 billion contract to supply the U.S. government with 44.75 million doses of the anthrax vaccine over a five year period.
The government has invested in this vaccine despite the fact that there are numerous problems with the drug itself. As we posted earlier this year, both the vaccine’s safety and its effectiveness are doubtful. In addition, Emergent BioSolutions charges the government an exceedingly high price for the vaccine, with a mark-up of 300%.
Our post drew greatly upon a chilling expose of Emergent BioSolutions’ marketing practices and the ineffectiveness of the vaccine that was released by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Imagine our surprise, then, to hear that, in a move that seems to contradict everything they wrote in that brilliantly researched report, the think-tank is now hosting an event titled “Anthrax Revisited” which asks “Are we better prepared today” to handle biological attacks than we were ten years ago?
This event seems designed to promote the very vaccine that CAP proved was unsafe and ineffectual. In addition, the blurb about the event notes that, “This October marks another solemn 10-year anniversary, as a decade has passed since a series of letters containing anthrax spores infected 17 Americans and killed 5, and introduced the United States to the dangers of a biological attack.” Nowhere is it mentioned that the anthrax “attacks” ten years ago were concluded by the FBI to be an inside job by a scientist who had himself worked on the anthrax vaccine, or that anthrax has over a hundred strains, which should be treated with different antibiotics due to their differences. The EBS vaccine has never been proven to be effective against inhalation anthrax in humans; in fact, the current vaccine has not even been proven effective against skin anthrax. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that genetic modification could theoretically create an anthrax strain resistant to the vaccine.
The blurb also does not mention why a terrorist organization would stick to anthrax if plotting a bioterrorist attack. Personally, it seems far likelier to me that they would choose a disease for which we have not ordered 44.75 million doses of vaccines, but I am only a lowly civilian.
CAP’s event features a host of panelists who seem to have associations to anthrax vaccine manufacturers and promoters. Panel I, for instance, features Dr. Tara O’Toole, the current Under Secretary for Science and Technology at Homeland Security. Not mentioned is the fact that before her appointment she served as a key adviser for the Alliance for Biosecurity, a group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that lobbied for greater government funding on anthrax vaccines and biodefense research. According to a Washington Times article in 2009, the Alliance spent over $500,000 lobbying Congress and federal agencies (including the Department of Homeland Security, where O’Toole now works) since 2005. O’Toole has also been accused of giving preferential treatment to another anthrax vaccine manufacturer, PharmAthene, and throughout her career in biosecurity, has been known to err on the side of fear-mongering. With all this in mind, it is difficult to understand why CAP decided to ask her to be one of the few panelists at their event.
The two other people on O’Toole’s panel are Senator Tom Daschle and Governor Tom Ridge. Senator Daschle was one of the people targeted during the 2001 anthrax attacks; Governor Ridge was the Secretary of Homeland Security at that time. It is notable that Senator Daschle received the anthrax letter shortly after challenging the anthrax vaccine immunization program. As a result of the anthrax attacks, the anthrax vaccine wasmade widely available to Capitol Hill workers – a decision that Governor Ridge must surely have been involved in making.
The second panel at CAP’s event features James Davis, Executive Vice President of Human Genome Sciences, manufacturer of an anthrax treatment drug, as well as Thomas Inglesby, from the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has written a number of articles promoting the vaccine as safe and effective despite the significant amount of contradictory data. He has also frequently collaborated with Dr. O’Toole, whose dubious credentials are noted above. The last panelist is Jeff Levi of Trust for America’s Health, who seems to be on boardwith fear-mongering in favor of vaccines in the event of an attack.
Looking at all of this, it seems clear that CAP has done a sudden about-turn on the issue of the anthrax vaccine. How could they change so dramatically in such a short time? Well, just keep in mind that Emergent BioSolutions and Pharma in general forms a powerful lobby. It is unfortunate that we have lost their voice, because we need more of the kind of research they did only a year ago.