Eyeing Terrorist Potential, Pentagon Seeks Vaccine Against Cold War-Era Bioweapon

"Q-fever" bacteria are seen through a laboratory microscope as they grow inside a biological cell. The U.S. Defense Department plans next week to lead a discussion with potential developers of a new vaccine against the possible bioterrorism agent.
National Journal
Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
Nov. 27, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — The U.S. De­fense De­part­ment is get­ting set to push for a new vac­cine against “Q-fever” bac­teria, an agent with a repu­ta­tion as a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ism tool ac­quired in part through its his­tory as a gov­ern­ment-made bio­lo­gic­al weapon.

The Pentagon’s De­fense Threat Re­duc­tion Agency is plan­ning an on­line for­um on Dec. 5 to fa­cil­it­ate con­ver­sa­tion with po­ten­tial de­velopers of a vac­cine against Q fever, which is also known by the bac­teria’s form­al des­ig­na­tion, Cox­i­ella bur­netii.

The United States in­vest­ig­ated the agent’s war­fare po­ten­tial and the So­viet Uni­on fully weapon­ized it dec­ades ago, long be­fore both coun­tries form­ally de­nounced bio­lo­gic­al arms in the 1970s. The dis­ease also oc­curs in nature and has af­fected hun­dreds of U.S. troops de­ployed over­seas.

It can pro­duce fever, pneu­mo­nia, and nu­mer­ous oth­er symp­toms as­so­ci­ated with a vari­ety of patho­gens.

Cer­tain an­ti­bi­ot­ics are con­sidered ef­fect­ive against the bac­teria, but no vac­cine is presently sold in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Sci­ent­ists. An ex­ist­ing vac­cin­a­tion avail­able abroad re­portedly can cause side ef­fects such as abs­cesses and swollen joints.

The United States “should def­in­itely have a Q fever vac­cine,” Amesh Adalja, a seni­or as­so­ci­ate with the Cen­ter for Health Se­cur­ity at the Uni­versity of Pitt­s­burgh Med­ic­al Cen­ter, said in a phone in­ter­view. “This is still a dis­ease that has some pub­lic health bur­den, in ad­di­tion to its po­ten­tial use as a bioweapon.”

The U.S.-led oc­cu­pa­tion of Ir­aq led to roughly 200 “acute” Q-fever cases among U.S. sol­diers, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­por­ted earli­er this year.

Those in­fec­tions ap­peared to res­ult from un­in­ten­tion­al ex­pos­ure to an­im­al car­ri­ers or bac­teria swept up by heli­copter ro­tors. Such nat­ur­ally oc­cur­ring cases rarely cause death, but Adalja sug­ges­ted the agent could prove more dan­ger­ous if in­cor­por­ated in a weapon.

Q-Fever bac­teria in­fec­ted but re­portedly did not kill any con­scien­tious war ob­ject­ors de­lib­er­ately ex­posed to the agent dur­ing U.S. Army ex­per­i­ments in the 1950s.

The United States has been eye­ing a new Q-fever vac­cine for sev­er­al years. However, the agent’s status as a po­ten­tial bi­o­ter­ror­ism tool is fairly new, re­l­at­ive to how long it has been an es­tab­lished bio­lo­gic­al weapon. CDC of­fi­cials only began track­ing Q-fever in­fec­tions in 1999, as the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion was in­creas­ing the na­tion’s fo­cus on bio­lo­gic­al ter­ror­ism as a na­tion­al-se­cur­ity threat.

A CDC list of po­ten­tial bi­o­ter­ror­ism agents and dis­eases, which in­cludes Q fever, “is de­rived al­most solely from the U.S. and So­viet bioweapons pro­grams,” Adalja said. He sug­ges­ted that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is “sub­stan­tially” more likely to fund de­vel­op­ment of vac­cines and treat­ments for such agents than for patho­gens nev­er in­volved in gov­ern­ment bio­lo­gic­al-weapons pro­grams.

Agents more than dan­ger­ous than Q-fever may have emerged since the Cold-War height of the U.S. and So­viet bio­lo­gic­al-weapons pro­grams, but the es­tab­lished track re­cord of his­tor­ic­al bio­lo­gic­al arms could make them par­tic­u­larly at­tract­ive to would-be bi­o­ter­ror­ists, Adalja said.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
3 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
3 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login