Bioterrorism is one of the most common concerns often heard regarding national safety. Understandably, such a concern regarding the use of microorganisms to cause harm over an area or a population is not unfounded due to the relative ease of dispersing harmful microbial agents without immediate detection due to minute size. As a matter of fact, there have been noted cases wherein mails contaminated with Anthrax have been distributed to cause disease outbreaks (Rempfer, 2009).
In this sense, there are apparent ways in which a naturally occurring outbreak may be easily differentiated from an intentional attack, especially if such means of dispersal have been identified. However, without such information, the determination whether a certain disease such as Anthrax is natural or intentional might be more complex than one might expect. Terrorist groups may consider the use of biological agents such as Anthrax because it is easier and more efficient to disperse, as well as it is relatively of lower costs.
Specifically, in comparison to nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, biological weapons have a larger area of effect due to the relative ease of dispersal; also the technological requirements in producing or culturing microorganisms are lesser if compared with the facilities needed for the creation of nuclear and chemical weapons (Hashmi and Lee, 2004). As previously pointed out, due to the fact that disease microorganisms are also known to exist naturally, the identification of whether an outbreak is natural or man-made might be rather difficult.
Even with such concerns, there are still ways in which the intentionally initiated outbreaks may be identified which requires the analysis of disease patterns and occurrences for a given location. To expound, deviations from the normal rate in terms of the age groups affected, increase of cases, and abnormal proximity between individuals that have developed the disease are indicative of an intentional attack using biological weapons (Cashman, 2008).
Since biological attacks are considered to be comparable with nuclear and chemical weapons, at the same time quite difficult to detect and identify, plans of developing an anthrax vaccine and having all military personnel take such a vaccine have manifested. In the context of Anthrax though, unlike common diseases which may be resolved through vaccination, the microbial strains may be possibly altered to give it the capability to bypass certain vaccines (Davis and Schneider, 2004).
Considering that some terrorists groups may not have the option or capability of directly manipulating the bacterial strains due to their technological limitations, the continuous development of a vaccine against anthrax may still be not the best option. Based on reports regarding previous military pursuits of developing an Anthrax vaccine, the results of such research have been mostly harmful and rather wasteful, albeit such negative implications have been associated with inappropriate planning (Rempfer, 2009).
In this sense, although the perceived need to develop a level of immunity against Anthrax attacks have a level of validity, developing vaccines may not be the best option to take as its efficacy is quite limited and it has its own set of detrimental effects. Even though biological weapons such as Anthrax are quite alarming, and the development of vaccines may be the initial response to the threat, such an approach is highly inappropriate. The limitations of the use of vaccines against Anthrax are indicative that there are other potential solutions to the problem.
As a matter of fact, given that Anthrax is bacterial in nature, antibiotics are considered to be a potentially useful tool in the recovery of those that have been affected by the disease although resistance is also of concern (Davis and Schneider, 2004). Given that there are alternatives to the use of vaccines and that the use of vaccines have not yielded much positive results, it is therefore highly suggested to refrain from vaccine development and dispersal, and just aim to create other tools against Anthrax.
References Cashman, J. R. (2008). Emergency Response Handbook for Chemical and Biological Agents and Weapons. 2nd Edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press – Taylor and Francis Group. Davis, J. A. and Schneider, B. R. (2004). The Gathering Biological Warfare Storm. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers – Greenwood Publishing Group Incorporated. Hashmi, S. H. and Lee, S. P. (2004). Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and Secular Perspectives. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.