Up to $48M of expired anthrax vaccine thrown out annually, says DHS official

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Up to 2 million doses of expired anthrax vaccination worth $48 million gets thrown out annually from the federal stockpile, said a Homeland Security Department official during an April 17 congressional hearing.

The Center for Disease Control stores anthrax vaccines as part of the Strategic National Stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures to potential terrorist attacks or pandemics.

Federal agencies "throw out [a vaccine] when it expires," said James Polk, principal deputy assistant secretary of the DHS Office of Health Affairs while testifying before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response, and communications.  

Since the stockpile was established by a 2004 law, the Project BioSheid Act, the federal government has spent about $2.56 billion on supplying the stockpile, which also includes vaccines for smallpox and treatments for the plague or exposure to radioactive substances.

Because all medicines come with expiration dates (which tend to be highly conservative in terms of assessing whether the potency of a drug has diminished), CDC must constantly buy far more doses than the number vaccines it wants to have on hand in the stockpile. A May 2011 Congressional Research Service report (.pdf) notes, for example, that the CDC had to buy 29 million doses of anthrax vaccine from 2006 to 2011 in order to maintain at least 10 million vaccines on hand. Federal policy is not to permit the use of medicine past its expiration date.

CDC and DHS do have under development a pilot project that would provide expiring anthrax vaccines to first responders, who would have to volunteer to receive them, Polk said. The vaccines would be administered by state and local jurisdictions, who would have to set up their own distribution systems, he said.

The pilot is at the stage where CDC and DHS attorneys are looking in their appropriation authorities where they might find the money to mail the expiring vaccines to pilot participants, Polk added.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)

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