Silo thinking in vaccine stockpiling persists

Lt. Col. Thomas Rempfer’s course paper in Technology for Homeland Security may not have translated into an applicable policy or practice in the field. It did, however, expose the “silo” thinking that plagues many agencies that are tasked with homeland security responsibilities in the United States.

Writing on a topic seen in national headlines, Rempfer, a Predator pilot with the Arizona National Guard, used a technological approach in examining the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile procurement. He found one federal agency was continuing its procurement of anthrax vaccine despite a determination years ago by the Department of Defense the vaccine was ineffective and research on it should be discontinued – a situation that left taxpayers paying the bill for vaccine rife with controversy.

 In his Technology for Homeland Security research and subsequent thesis, Thomas Rempfer stressed the need for resurveying current Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) procurement.

1) Rempfer discovered that the October 2001 anthrax scare in the United States, in which anthrax was anonymously mailed to elected leaders and others, was preceded by a Defense Department decision to discontinue research on that vaccine. In his paper he cited a 2008 FBI study: “According to August 2008 FBI analysis, the motive for the letter attacks related to a US Army scientist’s desire to create “a scenario where people all of a sudden realize the need to have this vaccine” in order to revive the “failing” program during the timeframe when the potency testing remained unresolved.” Using government and military documentation, the paper traced the history of anthrax vaccine development and how old strains of the vaccine remained in place for use despite calls for updates. He further argued that “the proven efficacy of antibiotics as an alternative therapy, the only one recommended by CDC, supports a more efficient preparedness approach.” The ploy seemed to work as the Department of Homeland Security began stockpiling the vaccine, despite Defense Department moves to discontinue its research.

2) Rempfer’s technology course paper evolved into his CHDS thesis and a subsequent article published in the Homeland Security Affairs Journal. All the papers recommended prompt Executive Branch review of the anthrax vaccine’s use in the SNS in the form of a Presidential Study Directive (PSD) and Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) process, as well as enforcement of Homeland Security Policy Directives requiring review by the DHS of stockpile components.

3) Recently the Department of Defense’s medical college, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) critiqued the current Anthrax Vaccine doses as being “hampered by shortcomings that make their widespread use undesirable or infeasible.” This evaluation comports with decades of earlier negative reviews of the current anthrax vaccine prior to the anthrax letter attacks of 2001. After that pivotal time frame a rush to stockpile something to guard against anthrax led to use of this known unsatisfactory and inadequate product when antibiotics successfully combat the most lethal inhaled form of the vaccine, Rempfer said. A thorough review of the issue will reveal a failure by the DHS to reassess use of the current anthrax vaccine after the FBI revealed in 2008 that the earlier “failing” status of the vaccine not only motivated the anthrax letter attacks of 2001 but also created a demand for subsequent stockpiling.

Significantly, the FBI also recently finalized its findings, corroborating Rempfer’s research.

Associated file: Paper: The Technology “Behind” Protecting Americans Against Anthrax

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment |, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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