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Anthrax & Anthrax vaccine quick facts

Updated May 04, 2024

Bioweponized Anthrax


  • Anthrax is a rare but serious bacterial infection caused by Bacillus anthracis and commonly occurs in farm animals after they graze in areas contaminated with spores of B. anthracis.  There are four types of anthrax – Cutaneous (Skin), gastrointestinal, inhalation, and injection. Cutaneous is the most common and least deadly form of anthrax.   The anthrax bacteria is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person; 
  • It can enter the bloodstream from a cut in the skin, inhaling anthrax spores into the lungs, swallowing anthrax spores, or injecting anthrax contaminated heroin. Direct exposure though the skin from an infected animal, animal waste and by-products, or contaminated soil is the most common infection route. Veterinarians, farmers, or researchers working with animals are at higher risk of being infected by anthrax;   
  • Left untreated, the anthrax bacteria can multiply in the body and kill quickly. The mortality rate for untreated skin acquired (cutaneous) anthrax is 10 to 20 percent but rare if antibiotic therapy is promptly started.  All forms of anthrax are treatable if caught early. Persons most at risk for complications from anthrax are those who do not receive antibiotics quickly; 
  • Anthrax acquired by inhaling into the lungs, through the gastrointestinal tract, or by injection has a higher death rate than cutaneous anthrax; 
  • A primary concern regarding anthrax is its use in a bioterrorist attack. In 2001, 22 individuals developed anthrax in the U.S. because of a bioterrorism attack. 

Anthrax Vaccine

  • Two anthrax vaccines are licensed by the FDA for adults between the ages of 18 and 65. Biothrax, by Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing LLC, is approved for pre-exposure prophylaxis and confirmed or suspected anthrax exposure when given with recommended antibiotics. ; CYFENDUS by Emergent Product Development Gaithersburg Inc. is approved for suspected or confirmed exposure to anthrax when given with recommended antibiotics.  Anthrax vaccines are not approved for use in children or recommended for pregnant women; 
  • A series of 3 primary and 2 booster doses are given, and individuals are only considered protected once they have had the full series. Not all individuals who receive the anthrax vaccine may be protected, and there is minimal data on the effectiveness of the vaccine for inhalation anthrax; 
  • Biothrax anthrax vaccine is recommended for persons considered high-risk for anthrax exposure. These include some U.S. military personnel, veterinarians or persons handling animals or animal byproducts, and laboratory workers working with the anthrax bacterium (B. anthracis); 
  • Reported mild to moderate anthrax vaccine reactions include local swelling, pain and redness at the injection site, fever, chills, and nausea that resolve without permanent damage. Severe anthrax vaccine reaction reports include autoimmune and brain dysfunction, chronic disabling fatigue, persistent headaches, severe joint pain and crippling arthritis, numbness, and muscle weakness, paralysis, brain inflammation, seizures, permanent memory loss, and death.   
  • Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of April 26, 2024, there were 9,365 adverse events reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) for anthrax-containing vaccines. Within the total number of VAERS reports, there were 31 deaths reported, with over 70 percent of the deaths reportedly occurring in adults 18 to 49 years of age.
  • Anthrax vaccines are considered a public health emergency “countermeasures” and continue to fall under the PREP Act, which shields manufacturers and vaccine providers from liability. The Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP) awards compensation to those injured by countermeasure vaccines.   

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC “Quick Facts” is not a substitute for becoming fully informed about anthrax and the anthrax vaccine. NVIC recommends consumers read comprehensive information NVIC provides on anthrax, the vaccine manufacturer product information inserts, and speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Department of Defense (DOD)

MilVax information about anthrax, anthrax vaccine, and mandatory anthrax vaccination policies of the U.S. military. 

Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients

Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more

Search for Vaccine Reactions

NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more. 

Reporting a Vaccine Reaction

Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS. 

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