A US presidential commission has given a tentative thumbs-up to the testing of the anthrax vaccine in children. The report released by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues described the necessity of testing the vaccine on children, but also detailed strict guidelines for testing to keep children at minimal risk.
“The safety of our children is paramount, and we have to get this precisely right,” said Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., president of the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release. "The Bioethics Commission concludes that many significant steps would have to be taken, including additional minimal-risk research with adult volunteers, before pediatric anthrax vaccine trials prior to an attack should be considered.”
Anthrax vaccine testing in children has been called for because, in the event of a mass bioterrorist attack, a large proportion of the victims would be children. A thorny ethical issue is that not only would children not be able to fully understand the risks of participating in the study, but the children would also not gain any direct benefit from the research. As such, the panel announced that the risk to the children should be no more than minimal. It's thought that the proposed vaccine trial would start with children aged 18 and work its way down to 17- and 16-year olds.
It seems like the impossible ethical question. On the one hand, it seems important to test the vaccine in the immune system of children so that biodefense researchers can be sure that the vaccine is effective. On the other hand, questions have to be asked about the likelihood of a bioterrorist attack using anthrax and the effectiveness of using antibiotics instead. Critics of the testing would argue that it was unethical to use children in such a trial. The panel's response arose from “one of the most difficult ethical reviews a bioethics board has ever conducted,” said Gutmann.
You can hear more about research and development in biodefense vaccines by watching this video presentation delivered by Dr Michael Kurilla.
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