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Anthrax vaccine

Generic Name: anthrax vaccine (ANTH rax vax EEN)
Brand Name: Biothrax

Medically reviewed by on Oct 31, 2019 – Written by Cerner Multum

What is anthrax vaccine?

Anthrax is a disease caused by infection with spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis, which occur naturally in soil. These bacteria most often infect animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, deer, antelope, and other herbivores. Anthrax disease can occur in people who are exposed to an infected animal or other source of anthrax bacteria.

Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions lacking in good veterinary prevention programs, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. Although less common, anthrax does occur in the United States among both wild game animals and domestic livestock.

Anthrax is spread to a human through the skin, the stomach, or the lungs. The bacteria can enter the skin through a cut or wound that comes into contact with products from an infected animal (such as meat, wool, hide, or hair). Infection can also occur through the lungs when a person inhales the bacterial spore, or through the stomach when a person eats undercooked meat from an infected animal. Anthrax is a serious disease that can spread quickly throughout the body and it is fatal in a high number of cases, especially when acquired through the lungs.

Anthrax vaccine is used to help prevent anthrax disease in adults. Anthrax vaccine will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body.

Anthrax vaccine is used before exposure in people who may come into contact with anthrax bacteria in certain work settings, while traveling, or during military service. Anthrax vaccine is used together with antibiotics after exposure in people who have already come into contact with anthrax bacteria.

This vaccine works by exposing you to an antigen protein that causes your body to develop immunity to the disease. Anthrax vaccine does not contain live or killed forms of the bacteria that causes anthrax.

Like any vaccine, the anthrax vaccine may not provide protection from disease in every person.

Important Information

You should not receive this vaccine if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to an anthrax vaccine.

Before taking this medicine

You should not receive this vaccine if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to an anthrax vaccine.

To make sure anthrax vaccine is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have:

Vaccines may be harmful to an unborn baby and generally should not be given to a pregnant woman. However, not vaccinating the mother could be more harmful to the baby if the mother becomes infected with a disease that this vaccine could prevent. Your doctor will decide whether you should receive this vaccine, especially if you have a high risk of infection with anthrax.

If you are pregnant, your name may be listed on a pregnancy registry. This is to track the outcome of the pregnancy and to evaluate any effects of anthrax vaccine on the baby.

It is not known whether anthrax vaccine passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. Tell your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.

How is anthrax vaccine given?

This vaccine is given as an injection (shot) into a muscle or under the skin.

Anthrax vaccine is recommended before exposure for adults age 18 through 65 in the following situations:

  • people who handle anthrax bacteria in a laboratory or other work setting;

  • people who handle animal hides or furs imported from areas where anthrax is common;

  • people who handle meat or other animal products in areas where anthrax is common;

  • veterinarians who travel to countries where anthrax is common; and

  • military personnel at risk of exposure through potential biological warfare when anthrax may be used as a weapon.

When used after exposure, anthrax vaccine is given in combination with antibiotic medicine. Be sure to use the antibiotic for the full prescribed length of time, even if you feel fine.

The anthrax vaccine is given in a series of shots. An annual booster shot is also recommended every year during possible exposure to anthrax. Follow your doctor's instructions or the booster schedule recommended by the health department of the state where you live.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Contact your doctor if you will miss a booster dose or if you get behind schedule. The next dose should be given as soon as possible. There is no need to start over.

Be sure you receive all recommended doses of this vaccine. You may not be fully protected against disease if you do not receive the full series.

What happens if I overdose?

An overdose of this vaccine is unlikely to occur.

What should I avoid before or after receiving anthrax vaccine?

Follow your doctor's instructions about any restrictions on food, beverages, or activity.

Anthrax vaccine side effects

You should not receive a booster vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first shot.

Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving this vaccine. When you receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous shot caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with anthrax is much more dangerous to your health than receiving this vaccine. However, like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • a light-headed feeling, like you might pass out;

  • fever, chills, body aches, nausea, flu symptoms; or

  • severe swelling or a hard lump where the shot was given.

Common side effects include:

  • mild redness, swelling, or tenderness where the shot was given;

  • trouble moving the injected arm;

  • muscle pain;

  • tired feeling; or

  • headache.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report vaccine side effects to the US Department of Health and Human Services at 1 800 822 7967.

Anthrax vaccine dosing information

Usual Adult Dose for Anthrax Prophylaxis:

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis:
Primary series: 0.5 mL intramuscularly at 0, 1, and 6 months
Booster series: 0.5 mL intramuscularly 6 and 12 months after primary series and at 12-month intervals thereafter

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis in patients at risk of hematoma from intramuscular injection:
Primary series: 0.5 mL subcutaneously at 0, 2, and 4 weeks and 6 months
Booster series: 0.5 mL subcutaneously 6 and 12 months after primary series and at 12-month intervals thereafter

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis:
Primary series: 0.5 mL subcutaneously at 0, 2, and 4 weeks post-exposure combined with antimicrobial therapy

-Efficacy for post-exposure prophylaxis is based solely on animal models of inhalation anthrax.
-The optimal catch up schedule for missed or delayed booster doses is unknown.

-Active immunization of patients aged 18 to 65 for pre-exposure prophylaxis in those at high risk of exposure
-Active immunization of patients aged 18 to 65 for post-exposure prophylaxis after suspected or confirmed Bacillus anthracis exposure, administered in conjunction with recommended antibacterials

What other drugs will affect anthrax vaccine?

Before receiving this vaccine, tell the doctor about all other vaccines you have recently received.

Other drugs may interact with anthrax vaccine, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Tell each of your health care providers about all medicines you use now and any medicine you start or stop using.

Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.