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Presidential office admits importing anthrax vaccines, only for treatment

The presidential office on Sunday confirmed it imported anthrax vaccines this year, but denied claims that it has only vaccinated its officials against the disease.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Soo-hyun said in a press release that the purchase was planned by the former administration in early 2016 and that this was reflected in the budget this year. 

Presidential office spokesman Park Soo-hyun (Yonhap)
Presidential office spokesman Park Soo-hyun (Yonhap)

“The need to introduce anthrax vaccines came after the anthrax delivery accident at the US military base here in 2015. And we purchased the vaccines, not to prevent but to treat the disease, in case of biological terror attacks,” Park said in the statement.

In 2015, potentially live lethal bacteria was “unintentionally” sent by a military laboratory in Utah in the United States to Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi Province.

On Wednesday, a Japanese news outlet claimed that North Korea was testing ways to load biological weapons on its missiles. Following the report, a local media outlet said the presidential office had purchased 500 doses of anthrax vaccines for its officials and the president.

Soon after the series of reports, criticism arose among the public, and more than 2,000 people signed online petitions demanding for the government to vaccinate all citizens against the fatal disease.

Cheong Wa Dae said it imported 350 doses of anthrax vaccines on Nov. 2, after getting approval from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in July. It said it had stored them in a national army hospital.

“The vaccine is much more effective for treating the infections when used with an antiviral agent. We have not performed clinical tests of the vaccines, so we will only use them to treat the disease, not for prevention,” the spokesman said.

The government added that Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have anthrax vaccines for 1,000 patients prepared, in case of biological terror attacks.

Regarding the news report that claimed the presidential office is to inoculate only its 500 officials against the disease, the presidential office said it will take legal action.

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It is known to be fatal and is called a biological weapon.

In addition to the Japanese news report, US National Security Strategy on Monday said that North Korea is pursuing chemical and biological weapons that could be delivered by missiles. However, the communist regime denied the allegation.

“The DPRK, as a state party to the Biological Weapons Convention, maintains its consistent stance to oppose development, manufacture, stockpiling and possession of biological weapons,” the North’s Institute for American Studies, affiliated with its Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang is estimated to have 13 types of pathogens such as anthrax and clostridium botulinum that can be used as biological weapons, according to a 2016 report by the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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