WASHINGTON – The White House is working with South African scientists on the production of a new antidote to the anthrax bacteria and is poised to provide funding to a biosecurity company that is developing a generic version of the vaccine for the deadly illness, The Washington Post has learned.
This move could be critical in fighting the highly destructive and rapidly spreading form of the bacteria that entered the United States in October after being mailed to congressional offices and the media, according to senior U.S. officials.
The officials said the Obama administration, backed by Congress, explored contracting with South African-based Lonza Group, whose companies had manufactured and stockpiled the drug for use in the effort to fight Ebola. But a company spokesperson declined to discuss the issue or comment.
The development was the second response by the Trump administration to Ebola by a third party, with a different official saying the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reached out to CSL Behring – which manufactures the Ebola vaccine – to determine whether the vaccine could be used to fight any form of bioterrorism and possible bioterrorism.
Now, those officials said, the White House is working with Lonza, which potentially could begin making a drug as early as next year to supplement U.S. stockpiles for potential use in an anthrax attack, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The CDC announced in March that it was moving to quarantine a total of 64 soldiers from a bio-defense training unit at Fort Mead in West Virginia who had come into contact with one particular strain of anthrax in July 2017.
The decision was made after Army scientists discovered that the primary strain was resistant to the anthrax vaccine soldiers are being trained to use – a finding that could have potentially endangered any U.S. civilian, military or public health workers who received the doses.
Veterans who received the anthrax vaccine last year have been placed on a four-month transition path in which they must be monitored for side effects, and the Agriculture Department has spent $250,000 to prepare an antimicrobial for the anthrax threat.
Yet none of the soldiers appeared to develop any side effects, and so no vaccines have been prepared for use in their potential use, officials said.