A three-syllable new variant in the anthrax vaccine is generating alarm, with some scientists worrying it could promote up to ninefold more virulence in anthrax spores.
Rationally, there should be concern because the new gene appears to make a protein in anthrax spores essential for their growth. “This concern is concerning because further reduction of mutation across a variety of gene families has been associated with improved virulence,” said Dr. Ralph Humphrey, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins University.
A last-ditch battle
The recent wave of severe, deadly African and American anthrax outbreaks have highlighted the perils of inhaled anthrax — including a recent spate of deadly infections in upstate New York and Delaware — and increased pressure on researchers to develop a vaccine.
An urgent quest is under way for an effective, fast-acting vaccine, and while scientists are now testing studies into a third recommended protein for delivery of a vaccine, there is no certainty that the new “Omicron” modification would have any effect on vaccine efficacy. It could even improve its ability to kill its target.