Anthrax Vaccine

What Is Anthrax?

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by specific bacteria. It can occur in humans when they have been exposed to contaminated animals or tissue from these animals.

Different types of anthrax infections can occur. These include:

  • Skin infection causing:
    • Skin ulcers
    • Fever
    • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal infection causing:
    • Fever
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Sore throat
    • Abdominal pain and swelling
    • Swollen lymph glands
  • Inhaled infection—this is the most serious form and can cause:
    • Sore throat
    • Fever
    • Muscle aches
    • Breathing problems
    • Shock
    • Brain inflammation

Anthrax is treated with antibiotics. All forms of anthrax can be fatal, especially if not treated.

What Is the Anthrax Vaccine?    TOP

The anthrax vaccine protects against anthrax. It does not contain cells that cause anthrax.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?    TOP

The following people aged 18 to 65 years should get vaccinated. Those who:

  • Are lab workers who may come into contact with the bacteria that causes anthrax
  • Certain people who handle animals and animal products
  • Certain people in the military who risk exposure to anthrax as a biological warfare weapon

These people should get 5 doses of the vaccine in the muscle. The first dose should be given when there is risk of exposure. The other 4 doses should be given at 4 weeks and 6, 12, and 18 months after the first dose.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Anthrax Vaccine?    TOP

Risks associated with the anthrax vaccine include:

  • Common, mild side effects include a reaction at the injection site—Soreness, redness, itching, a lump, or a bruise
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Rare, but serious risks include a serious allergic reaction—This condition is usually associated with anaphylaxis, which is an extreme allergic response.
  • Other serious adverse events may also occur.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?    TOP

Those who should not get vaccinated include:

  • Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of anthrax vaccine or any vaccine component
  • People with Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Those who are very sick

What Other Ways Can Anthrax Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?    TOP

You can prevent anthrax if you:

  • Take precautions when dealing with animals or animal products that could possibly be contaminated the bacteria that causes anthrax.
  • Begin a course of antibiotic treatment if you have been exposed to anthrax.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?    TOP

It is not believed that anthrax can be spread from person to person. If an outbreak occurred and a large number of people were exposed to the bacteria, the US would give antibiotics and vaccines to everyone who was exposed.

Vaccine and Immunizations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization


Anthrax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Updated July 17, 2009. Accessed August 29, 2013.
Anthrax. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated January 15, 2013. Accessed August 29, 2013.
Anthrax. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
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Updated March 18, 2011. Accessed August 29, 2013.
Anthrax vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Updated March 10, 2010. Accessed August 29, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2014 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 6/20/2014