What It Is and What It Protects Against

The anthrax vaccine is not available to the public. However the vaccine is used in specific cases in which a person (such as a member of the military or lab worker) has been or may be exposed to anthrax. The disease is caused by the bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, and includes three types: skin, lungs, and digestive system. Anthrax is contracted in humans by either handling infected animal products (wool or hides) or from eating undercooked meat.

General Use

The anthrax vaccine is recommended for individuals who have a higher risk of exposure to anthrax. Certain people, between the ages of 18 to 65 years old, who are recommended to get the vaccine include:

  • laboratory workers
  • individuals who handle meat and animal products
  • members of the military

Dosage:

The anthrax vaccine is administered in five doses. The first dose should be given as soon as possible following exposure to anthrax. The next four doses should be given as follows:

  • Second dose: 4 weeks later
  • Third dose: 6 weeks later
  • Fourth dose: 12 months later
  • Fifth dose: 18 months later

Who Should Not Get It

Individuals who are advised not to get the anthrax vaccine include:

  • those who experienced a severe allergic reaction to any part of a vaccine
  • anyone with Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS)
  • anyone with moderate or severe illness is advised to wait before getting vaccinated; although milder illness does not usually warrant the need to wait
  • *pregnant women may be able to get the vaccine if they have been exposed to anthrax

Potential Side Effects

Though the risk of serious harm from the anthrax vaccine is small compared with the actual untreated disease itself, the vaccine does hold some risk, from mild to severe side effects.

Mild side effects include:

  • reactions on the arm, at the site of the shot, including:
    • tenderness
    • redness
    • itching
    • formation of a lump
    • bruising
  • muscle aches or temporary limited movement of the arm
  • headache
  • fatigue

Severe side effects include:

Severe allergic reactions, though rare, would occur immediately after the shot, anywhere from minutes to within an hour. Signs of allergic reaction include:

  • high fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • weakness
  • rapid heartbeat
  • hoarseness or wheezing
  • dizziness
  • hives
  • paleness
  • swelling of the throat

Severe allergic reactions require immediate medical attention. Anyone experiencing a reaction following a dose of the anthrax vaccine should be taken to a doctor right away.