US Orders 75 Million Doses of Anthrax Vaccine

WASHINGTON -- The United States has ordered 75 million doses of a new anthrax vaccine, costing some 877.5 million dollars, from pharmaceutical VaxGen, health secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday.

The vaccine -- enough to protect 25 million people -- supply will go into a national stockpile with the aim of protecting against a biological attack, he said.

"The intentional release of anthrax spores is one of the most significant biological threats we face," Thompson said in a statement.

"Acquiring a stockpile of this new anthrax vaccine is a key step toward protecting the American public against another anthrax attack."

The deal requires California-based VaxGen to win approval for the vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration, the federal drug regulator.

The contract is the first approved by the US government under its "Project BioShield" scheme, approved this year by Congress to provide money to bolster national defenses against a biological attack, mainly by fostering increased medical research into vaccines and other protections.

Research into the new vaccine began in September 2002 through the government's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

The Pentagon had been giving anthrax vaccinations to US troops deployed in high threat areas such as the Middle East and South Korea to protect them against the deadly bacteria, but a federal court ordered a halt over concerns about how the vaccine's safety was approved.

Letters bearing anthrax were sent in September and October, 2001 to the offices of a tabloid newspaper publisher in Florida, NBC television's New York offices and to the congressional office of then Senate majority leader Tom Daschle.

Five people ultimately died of anthrax inhalation in the worst bio-terrorism attack in US history.

No one has been charged with the crime.