Emergency responders fight for anthrax policy change

ST. LOUIS - There's a push to get local emergency responders vaccinated against anthrax on a voluntary basis in case of a biohazardous situation in the St. Louis area. Doctors say it takes about 2 months for your body to build up a protective level of antibodies against anthrax. They have to take antibotics to keep them alive if they're exposed to the deadly bacteria.

Judy Brandes prayed her husband, Bill, would come home in one piece after 9/11. He was a Fire Chief for the Creve Coeur District and a HAZMAT responder. In 2001, he responded to more than 200 calls of "white powder scares." Brandes is frustrated with the lack of access that first responders have to the anthrax vaccine, "I just don't feel that I was protecting our men and women and the citizens of area." Brandes say a first responder could've easily been exposed to the deadly bacteria, "All it would take is one real incident, a tear in a suit or a failure of a respirator or a violation of a glove and you can run the risk of exposure to those individuals."

SLU Biosecurity professor Dr. Thomas Zink is also the founding director of Project EQUIPP a national group aimed at protecting emergency personnel. He has been trying to get the federal government to change its anthrax vaccine policy since 2008. Zink says while the CDC supports the preventative vaccinations for emergency responders- no one has begun to vaccinate them through an organized voluntary system. Zink says many first responders aren't vaccinated prior to inspecting a potentially suspicious parcel or package. Dr. Zink says millions of doses are thrown away because they expire in about four years.

Former Homeland Security coordinator for the State of Missouri, Paul Finnewald, calls it wasteful. Department of Homeland Security officials say they are evaluating the anthrax vaccine policy, they released a statement saying.."There is no indication of a specific, credible anthrax attack in the United States at this time. However, due to the risks and consequences associated with a malicious use of anthrax it's important for the federal government to ensure the readiness of the nation's first responders."

Project EQUIPP has several doctors in their organization. They are trying to seek funding so that they can someday purchase the vaccine and begin vaccinating emergency responders on a voluntary basis. If you would like to know more about Project EQUIPP and what you can do to contribute to the organization's efforts, just visit their website.


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