British scientists make half a million doses of anthrax vaccine

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Britain has resumed production of an anthrax vaccine designed to protect troops against one of the most deadly agents in the arsenal of biological warfare.

The Ministry of Defence has received up to half a million doses of the vaccine which will be offered voluntarily to its personnel serving in the Persian Gulf and other regions of the world thought to be at risk of biological attack.

Scientists at the Government's Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR) at Porton Down in Wiltshire have produced the vaccine using a new £2m production facility which has taken two years to build.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis which produces spores and toxins that can cause skin infections, fever, breathing difficulties and toxic shock.

During the 1991 Gulf War, CAMR supplied the Ministry of Defence with enough anthrax vaccine to inoculate tens of thousands of troops who were thought to be at risk of biological attack from Saddam Hussein.

Military experts feared that Iraq might use anthrax bombs which spray a fine aerosol containing enough spores to cause the pulmonary form of the disease when inhaled.

There is a risk of pulmonary anthrax if more than about 10,000 spores are breathed in. The symptoms can appear within two days and can eventually kill upto 90 per cent of victims.

CAMR is thought to be one of only a few places in the world capable of making anthrax vaccine. The West's other production facility, in the United States, has been closed down and does not currently have a licence from the US Food and Drug Administration.

"The facility is currently the only one anywhere in the world which is able to manufacture a licensed vaccine against anthrax," said a spokesman for the centre.

CAMR grows a "disabled" strain of the bacteria in large fermenting vats and makes the vaccine by isolating bacterial proteins that generate a protective immune response when injected into the bloodstream.

Anthrax normally infects domestic animals, such as cattle and sheep, and is endemic in some parts of the world, such as South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as wide areas of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

In addition to supplying the Ministry of Defence, CAMR will also produce the vaccine for the Department of Health and veterinary organisations.

"CAMR will continue to produce the vaccine in the future to ensure that the UK retains the capability to protect its armed forces from the threat of this element of biological warfare. It will also continue to supply the vaccine to meet public-health requirements," the spokesman said.