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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
Anthrax vaccine for troops
Laboratory workers producing the anthrax vaccine BBC
Laboratory workers producing the anthrax vaccine
A state-of-the-art UK laboratory has produced tens of thousands of doses of anthrax vaccine in the fight against biological warfare.

The laboratory, based at Porton Down in Salisbury, is the only place in the world that can manufacture a licensed vaccine against anthrax.

The Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, which has existed since 1979, has just seen the creation of the 2m, modern laboratory.

The anthrax bacterium is one of the most infectious agents known to man. It invades the lungs and poisons the blood.


The threat of biological warfare by rogue states has not gone away and certainly government will want to continue to protect troops that operate in such areas

Peter Hambleton, CAMR
It is banned as a biological weapon - but it is stockpiled by several so-called rogue states.

Peter Hambleton, director of production at CAMR, which also carries out health related research, said it was important the laboratory continued to make the anthrax vaccine.

"The threat of biological warfare by rogue states has not gone away and certainly government will want to continue to protect troops that operate in such areas.

"There is also increasing concern that anthrax might become a weapon of bio-terrorism against civilian populations and the vaccine, like any other vaccines, does have a limited shelf-life, and therefore we should continue to manufacture and maintain stocks that can be used to protect civilians and troops."

Stockpiling

The anthrax vaccine will be made available under a voluntary scheme to troops by the Ministry of Defence.

It will be offered to those going to the Gulf, and any other areas where there is a risk of anthrax being used as a biological weapon. It is thought that the Iraqi regime has stockpiled biological weapons.

The facility will also produce vaccines should there be attacks on the UK population.

But there is growing concern from weapons verification organisations that with the completion of the human genome, some rogue states may soon develop weapons that could be targeted at specific ethnic groups.

They fear facilities designed to mass produce vaccines could also be used to develop bioweapons as more countries develop their own defences against biological warfare.

They are calling on governments to keep track of this new and ever more lethal area of research.

Oliver Meier from the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (Vertic), said: "There is a real danger that this work that is being done for legitimate defensive purposes can be perceived as being taken for offensive purposes as well.

"That's why I think it is very important that there are clear rules of procedure about what kind of work these institutions like Porton Down can do and cannot do.

"For example, the work with certain genetically modified agents is entering a twilight zone of biodefence work that can be potentially be used for offensive research also."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Anthrax can infect the lungs and poison the blood"
Former Government advisor, Sir William Stewart
"The important thing is that this vaccine is available irrespective of who needs it"
Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch
"We are not going to vaccinate our way out the threat of biological weapons"
See also:

22 Jan 98 | Middle East
Cook issues Iraq anthrax warning
26 Sep 98 | Sci/Tech
Drug 'blows apart' bacteria
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