Friday, August 8, 2008

Clarifying info on the anthrax vaccines Ivins studied

From Eric Lipton in the Aug 9 NY Times:

"There was a real threat, the former colleagues acknowledged, that the anthrax vaccine Dr. Ivins had worked on during that period, known as Anthrax Vaccine Absorbed or AVA, might be pulled from the market

Most troubling were problems at the Michigan manufacturing plant, which had been shut down in 1998 after the Food and Drug Administration uncovered serious flaws.

Dr. Ivins and other researchers, however, had been working on a more advanced alternative vaccine — considered safer and more effective — so there was no reason for such a rash act, his former colleagues say.

“There was a lot of consternation, a lot of pressure to rescue this thing,” said Jeffrey Adamovicz, one of Dr. Ivins’s fellow researchers at the time. “But if AVA failed, he had his next vaccine candidate. It was well on its way to what looked to be a very bright future...”

...The Defense Department denied conducting such experiments on troops and defended the vaccine, saying it was both safe and effective, and necessary to protect the military from a possible attack. Dr. Ivins’s notebooks, which were released to the public, suggested, however, that he had found that the vaccine might be making some of the test animals sick.

“Although all vaccinated monkeys survived, they appeared to be sick over the course of two weeks,” Dr. Ivins’s laboratory report said."

My understanding of this information, though I have not seen the notebooks, is that the vaccinated monkeys, despite their vaccinations, got anthrax after being exposed experimentally--but the illness was less severe than if they had not been vaccinated, and they survived. This is actually an example of poor vaccine effectiveness. In this example, the monkeys were sick from anthrax, not from their vaccinations.

However, Bruce encouraged me to study the safety of anthrax vaccines. If I remember correctly, he continued to encourage me in this endeavor, even after I published a March 1999 review article questioning the safety of some of the vaccines he was developing, as well as questioning the Bioport vaccine.

There may have been nagging, unresolvable conflicts associated with the nature of Bruce's work. (Here I have no direct knowledge and am just speculating). His job was to develop anthrax vaccines, and he was required to publicly support them. As a recipient, he suspected the vaccine had made him and others ill. As a scientist, he knew the vaccines had very limited effectiveness. But to continue in his chosen field, he had to keep taking vaccine boosters.

Yet the atmosphere nationally regarding forced military anthrax vaccinations was charged. Refusers were being court martialled. The Army's PR machine insisted the vaccine was perfectly safe and perfectly effective. Bruce, who worked for the Army, knew the vaccine was neither, and that Bioport plant operations were shoddy, to boot. Yet it fell to him to help Bioport get relicensed.

Bruce was trying to help people by making better vaccines. Bruce had a need to help people. But now the vaccine he was supporting was causing a lot of people to develop chronic illnesses.

This may partly explain the pressures Bruce was facing, and the exacerbation of his emotional difficulties, around 1998-9, even before the anthrax letters were sent. An Aug. 11 LA Times article explores Ivins' mental state as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It hadn't occurred to me that Bruce was also taking the vaccine. A friend pointed out to me that some of the symptoms he complains about in his email sound like side effects from Ambien.