Anthrax Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know
Vaccines Recommended for Travel and Some Specific Groups
There is a vaccine to prevent anthrax, but it is not typically available for the general public. Anyone who is at increased risk of being exposed to anthrax, including certain U.S. military personnel, laboratory workers, and some people who handle animals or animal products (such as veterinarians who handle infected animals), may get the vaccine.
Talk to your healthcare professional about what is best for your specific situation.
Learn about the anthrax vaccine at CDC’s What Are the Types of Anthrax Vaccines?.
Before Exposure to Anthrax
CDC recommends anthrax vaccination for three groups of adults 18 through 65 years old who may be at risk of coming in contact with anthrax because of their job:
- Certain laboratory workers who work with anthrax
- Some people who handle animals or animal products, such as veterinarians who handle infected animals
- Certain U.S. military personnel
After Exposure to Anthrax
CDC also recommends vaccination for people who have been exposed to anthrax in certain situations, such as after a bioterrorism attack involving anthrax.
Anthrax vaccination may be recommended for pregnant women who have been exposed to anthrax. However, when risk to anthrax exposure is low, pregnant women are not recommended to get the vaccine.
Because of age or health conditions, some people should not get certain vaccines or should wait before getting them. Read the guidelines below and ask your healthcare professional for more information.
Tell the person who is giving you an anthrax vaccine if:
You have had a life-threatening allergic reaction or have a severe allergy.
- Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose of the anthrax vaccine should not get another dose.
- Anyone who has a severe allergy to any vaccine component should not get a dose. Tell your provider if you have any severe allergies, including latex. Your healthcare professional can tell you about the vaccine’s ingredients.
You have been previously diagnosed with specific illnesses or conditions.
- If your immune system is weakened due to medication or illness.
- If you have had anthrax disease in past.
You are not feeling well.
- If you have a mild illness, such as a cold, you can probably get the vaccine. If you are moderately or severely ill, you should probably wait until you recover. Your healthcare professional can advise you.
There is one anthrax vaccine licensed for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration:
- BioThrax®: It is given to people 18 through 65 years old at increased risk of exposure in five doses, with a booster dose each year thereafter for those that continue to be at increased risk of exposure. It is given, in combination with antibiotics, as a three-dose primary series after exposure.
Vaccines that help protect against anthrax work well, but cannot prevent all cases.
- A study showed that the anthrax vaccine protects about 9 people out of every 10 vaccinated prior to exposure to the bacteria.
The anthrax vaccine is effective at protecting most people from anthrax, including the most deadly form that can happen when someone breathes the bacterial spores into their lungs. To build up protection against anthrax, people need 5 doses over a period of 18 months. However, it is unknown how long that protection lasts so people who are recommended to get this vaccine are advised to get a booster dose each year to stay protected.
Most people who get an anthrax vaccine do not have any serious problems with it. With any medicine, including vaccines, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own within a few days, but serious reactions are also possible.
Mild problems following an anthrax vaccine can include:
- Reactions where the shot was given
- Soreness or tenderness
- A lump or bruise
- Muscle aches or temporary limitation of movement in the arm where the shot was given
- Feeling tired
Problems that Could Happen after Any Injected Vaccine
- People sometimes faint after a medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes can help prevent fainting, and injuries caused by a fall. Tell your healthcare professional if you feel dizzy, have vision changes, or have ringing in the ears.
- Some people get severe arm pain and have difficulty moving the arm where a shot was given. This happens very rarely.
- Any medicine can cause a severe allergic reaction. Such reactions from a vaccine are very rare, estimated at about 1 in a million doses, and would happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.
- As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a serious injury or death.
For more information on possible side effects from vaccination, visit CDC’s Possible Side-effects from Vaccines webpage.
Anthrax vaccine is only recommended under specific circumstances and for specific individuals. While your healthcare professional’s office is usually the best place to receive recommended vaccines, it is unlikely they will carry anthrax vaccine.
If anthrax vaccine is recommended or required by your employer because of your job responsibilities, you should ask your employer if they offer the vaccine or to refer you to a clinic in your community where the vaccine is available. You can also contact your state health department to learn more about where to get the vaccine in your community if it is recommended for you.
If your employer recommends or requires anthrax vaccine, you should ask if they provide the vaccine to their employees. The vaccine may also be paid for by:
Private Health Insurance
Private health insurance plans may cover these vaccines if recommended for your job or in emergency situations. Check with your insurance provider for details on whether there is any cost to you and for a list of in-network vaccine providers.
- Page last reviewed: November 22, 2016
- Page last updated: January 30, 2019
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