Disease & Vaccine Information

Can Anthrax Vaccine Cause Injury and Death?

Updated September 09, 2022


According to the CDC, common side effects following anthrax vaccination include:1

  • Redness, itching, pain, swelling, or bruising at the injection site
  • Muscle aches and decreased range of motion in the arm where the vaccine was given
  • Headaches or fatigue

The Biothrax product information insert lists the following as serious adverse events:2

  • anaphylaxis
  • angioedema
  • rash
  • urticaria
  • erythema multiforme
  • anaphylactoid reaction
  • Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
  • paresthesia syncope
  • dizziness
  • tremor
  • ulnar nerve neuropathy
  • lymphadenopathy
  • nausea
  • malaise
  • pain
  • cellulitis
  • flu-like symptoms
  • insomnia
  • pruritis
  • flushing
  • arthralgia
  • arthropathy
  • myalgia
  • rhabdomyolysis
  • alopecia

Additionally, there have been reports of chronic multisystem disorders involving fatigue, mood cognition, and the musculoskeletal system.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, congressional hearings were held in the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee on anthrax vaccine safety, efficacy, and lack of informed consent protections with the military’s mandatory anthrax vaccination policies. Testimony from vaccine injured military veterans included several hundred cases where career soldiers chose to face court-martial rather than agree to be vaccinated or revaccinated with anthrax vaccine after serious reactions had occurred.3 

In 2002, Congress's General Accounting Office (GAO) published a survey which revealed that 85 percent of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves personnel experienced adverse reactions following anthrax vaccination. This was significantly higher than the reported 30 percent claimed by the vaccine’s manufacturer. This survey also reported that between September 1998 and September 2000 "about 16 percent of the pilots and aircrew members of the guard and reserve had (1) transferred to another unit (primarily to nonflying positions to avoid or delay receiving the anthrax shots), (2) moved to inactive status, or (3) left the military." 4 5

This report also stated that "Additionally, an estimated one in five (18 percent) of those still participating in or assigned to a unit in 2000 - that is those who had not already changed their status -indicated their willingness to leave in the near future. Both groups, those who had already left and those indicating their intention to leave, ranked AVIP [Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program] as a key factor in their decision to leave or change their participation." 6 7

Serious anthrax vaccine reactions resulting in permanent autoimmune and brain dysfunction have been reported and include:8

  • chronic disabling fatigue;
  • persistent headaches;
  • severe memory loss
  • brain inflammation
  • seizures
  • cellulitis
  • cysts
  • pemphigus vulgaris
  • endocarditis
  • sepsis
  • angioedema and other hypersensitivity reactions
  • asthma
  • aplastic anemia
  • neutropenia
  • idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura
  • lymphoma
  • leukemia
  • collagen vascular disease
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • multiple sclerosis
  • polyarteritis nodosa
  • inflammatory arthritis
  • transverse myelitis
  • Guillain Barré Syndrome
  • immune deficiency
  • mental status changes
  • psychiatric disorders
  • tremors
  • cerebrovascular accident (CVA)
  • facial palsy
  • hearing and visual disorders
  • aseptic meningitis
  • encephalitis
  • myocarditis
  • cardiomyopathy
  • atrial fibrillation
  • syncope
  • glomerulonephritis
  • renal failure
  • spontaneous abortion
  • liver abscess
  • death. 

Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), a debilitating syndrome affecting many military members who served during the Gulf War, has been linked to multiple vaccinations, including the anthrax vaccine. It is estimated that between 28 and 32 percent of veterans serving during the Gulf War era continue to have symptoms, which include cognitive deficits, musculoskeletal weakness, chronic pain, mood disorders, headache, fatigue, and numerous multi-system complaints. Several papers have been published regarding GWS and its association to vaccines that were required for military troops serving during this era.9

One published study which evaluated the health outcomes of Gulf War veterans in Kansas found that non-deployed individuals who received vaccines had a four-fold increased risk of neurological and gastrointestinal problems as well as chronic somatic pain in comparison to those who were not vaccinated. Deployed soldiers who served in the Gulf War region had an 11 times higher risk of health problems than those who were not deployed and who did not receive vaccines.10

There continues to be inadequate research to support or deny a link between multiple vaccines administered simultaneously or in a short period of time to members of the military, and chronic long-term health issues. Researchers evaluating the available data on GWS conclude that:11

“With regard to health policy, the practice of administering multiple vaccinations simultaneously, or within a highly compressed time frame, should be subject to an urgent safety review. Research is needed to evaluate the health effects of mass vaccination programs, especially when (as here) the recipients are in a position of limited autonomy, and to understand the factors affecting individual responses to vaccination. The benefits derived from short-term protection against infectious disease also need to be weighed against the potential long-term health risks of multiple vaccinations administered synchronously or near-synchronously, and in association with other potentially toxic exposures.”

As of August 31, 2022, there have been more than 9,261 anthrax vaccine-related health problems reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 417 reports of cases that ended with permanent disability and 31 deaths. Many of the serious anthrax vaccine adverse events in the VAERS database are associated with soldiers and military personnel receiving Biothrax vaccine simultaneously with other vaccines, such as smallpox vaccine, even though the manufacturer states in the product information insert that Biothrax has never been studied in controlled clinical trials in combination with other vaccines given simultaneously.12


References:

[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anthrax VIS. In: Vaccine Information Statements (VISs). Jan. 8, 2020.

[2] Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing LLC. Package Insert and Information for Patients – Biothrax. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Feb. 20, 2018.

[3] Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations. Subcommittee Report: The Department of Defense Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program: Unproven Force Protection. House Report 106-556. April 2000.

[4] Roos R. GAO: Military anthrax shots caused many reactions, prompted some pilots to quit. CIDRAP News Nov. 8, 2002.

[5] United States General Accounting Office (GAO). ANTHRAX VACCINE GAO’s Survey of Guard and Reserve Pilots and Aircrew. Report to Congressional Requesters Sept. 2002.

[6] Roos R. GAO: Military anthrax shots caused many reactions, prompted some pilots to quit. CIDRAP News Nov. 8, 2002.

[7] United States General Accounting Office (GAO). ANTHRAX VACCINE GAO’s Survey of Guard and Reserve Pilots and Aircrew. Report to Congressional Requesters Sept. 2002.

[8] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Assess the Safety and Efficacy of the Anthrax Vaccine. The Anthrax Vaccine Is It Safe? Does It Work? Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2002.

[9] Mawson AR, Croft AM. Gulf War Illness: Unifying Hypothesis for a Continuing Health Problem. Int J Environ Res Public Health Jan. 2019;16(1):111.

[10] Steele L. Prevalence and patterns of Gulf War illness in Kansas veterans: association of symptoms with characteristics of person, place, and time of military service. Am J Epidemiol Nov. 2000;152(10):992-1002.

[11] Mawson AR, Croft AM. Gulf War Illness: Unifying Hypothesis for a Continuing Health Problem. Int J Environ Res Public Health Jan. 2019;16(1):111.

[12] Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing LLC. Package Insert and Information for Patients – Biothrax. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Feb. 20, 2018.

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