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Panel: Much to Consider Before Testing Anthrax Vaccine in Children

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In a simulation of an anthrax attack on a city similar to San Francisco, 8 million Americans were affected, a quarter of them children.

But the anthrax vaccine has never been given to or even tested on children, said Amy Gutmann, chairwoman of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, on Monday during a call with reporters.

After studying the possibility of testing the anthrax vaccine in children for the last two years, her panel recommends proceeding very cautiously with any such testing in the future. The vaccine, which has been administered to about 1 million members of the military, should be tested first in older teenagers, according to the commission. If it poses only a "minor increase over minimal risk" to the health of this group of young people—minimal meaning little or no disruption to their daily lives—it could be tested in younger teenagers and so on.

In adults, the vaccine doesn't pose more than this minimal risk, but those effects can't be assumed in children, Gutmann said. Anthrax, a type of bacteria, can be used as a biological weapon, and in 2001, anthrax sent through the mail infected 22 people.

The panel weighed two issues in a hefty report released today. Children in anthrax vaccine tests wouldn't have anything to gain from the testing because it would be in preparation for a hypothetical attack, and because they are not adults, they cannot consent to the testing with a full understanding of the risks like adults can.

In the long run, the bioethics panel said, in case of an attack, children would benefit, however, and the U.S. government must consider that, too.

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