June 1, 2008 – Despite the enormous investments in developing an anthrax vaccine, senior employees at the Israel Institute for Biological Research have warned that there are problems with the product. However, institute director Dr. Avigdor Shafferman ignored their claims, and demoted one of the complainants, a senior manager.
The Biological Research Institute, one of the most secret institutions in Israel, employs 350 persons and operates with nearly no external supervision. In terms of administration, the institute answers to the Prime Minister’s Office, while physical and field security are handled by Malmab – the body responsible for security in the defense establishment at large.
According to foreign publications, the institute conducts research and development on biological and chemical weapons, and also develops antidotes – including medicines, vaccines and antibodies – against poison gas, microbes and viruses like anthrax, the plague, chicken pox and cholera.
Anthrax is a virus that generally affects animals, but can also harm humans. During the Gulf War in 1991, the United States feared Saddam Hussein might use biological weapons against its troops, and some 40,000 members of its armed forces were vaccinated against the disease, which targets the respiratory system.
Biological science researchers at the Nes Tziona institute, then headed by Dr. Shafferman, conducted intensive research on the virus, and as a result of their work, the institute decided to try to develop a vaccine.
In 2001, scientific and defense sources said the institute had developed a vaccine for anthrax, and that large-scale production would commence within a few months, enough for the entire population of Israel.
Intelligence assessments hold that countries in the Middle East, including Syria, Egypt and Iran, have developed anthrax as a biological weapon.
However, a senior manager at the institute, Dr. Yaakov Hadar, recently complained that the institute’s management of the anthrax vaccine was problematic. Dr. Hadar presented the issues in writing to Dr. Shafferman, who reprimanded Dr. Hadar, and convinced him to withdraw his letter of complaint.
Hadar was later demoted. Dr. Hadar refused to comment on the case, and directed Haaretz to Dr. Shafferman.
In its response to Haaretz’s inquiry, the Defense Ministry did not acknowledge the claims that there are problems with the vaccination.
“During the development of the anthrax vaccination that was carried out on behalf of the defense establishment, there were no problems in the conduct of any party,” the ministry spokesman told Haaretz.
Dr. Shafferman was appointed to head the institute in 1995, and employees have complained of his “dictatorial rule” several times.
The State Comptroller began an investigation last year into allegations that Shafferman allegedly had advised a pharmaceutical firm in developing anti-anthrax and nerve agent medicines, which would have been a conflict of interest.