Researchers have described the anthrax vaccine the Pentagon intends to give millions of troops as "1950s technology unimpeded by medical progress."
Critics have called it a "disgusting mix" and a "soup" because the manufacturing process leaves often unknown compounds in the vaccine.
It is made by growing a weakened strain of anthrax bacteria, killing the bacteria and filtering out a protein called protective antigen, or P.A.
Researchers have found that P.A. causes the body to develop a resistance to the lethal toxins produced by anthrax.
One criticism is that there is a wide variation from batch to batch in the amount of P.A., and that no standard exists for the amount of P.A. needed to produce immunity.
Researchers don't even know if the current 18-month series of six shots is necessary - it is based on a single study done in the 1950s.
Chuck Dacey, a spokesman for the Army Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick in Maryland, said there is an ongoing clinical trial to determine whether fewer doses can be used.
Pentagon officials have repeatedly expressed full confidence in the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine. But for more than a decade, they also have been funding a series of attempts to develop a better vaccine.
Last year, a highly purified vaccine was developed at Fort Detrick that shows promise but is several years away from production.
"The next generation vaccine is still very much in research and development," Dacey said.
Originally published, May 25, 1998, Belleville News-Democrat
(c) 1998, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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