The Anthrax Vaccine

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on November 17, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on November 17, 2014

Anthrax Vaccination

Anthrax is a serious illness. It can affect both humans and animals. Anthrax can be transmitted through infected animal products. It has, in the past, been used as a weapon.

Anthrax is caused by a type of bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. There are three types of anthrax related illnesses:

  • skin disease – caused by handling infected products
  • digestive disease – caused by eating raw or undercooked, infected meat
  • inhalation disease – caused by breathing in bacteria or spores

Vaccination can reduce the risk of cutaneous (skin) disease and inhalation disease. Aggressive antibiotic therapy may be able to cure some anthrax cases.

Getting Vaccinated

The anthrax vaccine is not available to the public. It’s used for people whose jobs put them at high risk of anthrax exposure like:

  • some laboratory workers
  • certain military personnel
  • certain people working with animals or animal products

The anthrax vaccine is only provided to high-risk adults between the ages of 18 and 65.

It’s administered in five doses. The first dose should be injected into the muscle as soon as exposure risk is identified. The next four doses should be given:

  • four weeks later
  • six weeks later
  • 12 months later
  • 18 months later

Yearly booster shots can be given if ongoing protection is needed.

In certain cases, people with known anthrax exposures are vaccinated. These people are given three doses of vaccine under their skin. The second and third doses are given at two and four weeks.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

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

  • those who have had a severe allergic reaction to previous anthrax vaccination
  • anyone allergic to vaccine components
  • certain people with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)
  • people with a current moderate or severe illness

Pregnant women should not be vaccinated unless they are at risk of inhalation anthrax. Nursing mothers can be vaccinated safely.

Potential Side Effects

Severe allergic reactions to this vaccine are very rare. They occur in less than one out of every 100,000 doses. However, mild and moderate side effects are quite common. These include:

  • reactions at the site of the shot like tenderness, redness, itching, a lump, bruising
  • muscle aches
  • temporarily limited arm movement
  • headache
  • fatigue

Recognizing an Allergic Reaction

Any severe allergic reaction would likely occur within an hour of vaccination. Symptoms include:

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

These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

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