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U.S. Health Officials Sign Anthrax Vaccine Contracts

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

One year after the anthrax attacks that began in Florida and eventually claimed five lives, federal health officials announced Thursday they would signed a contract to develop and stockpile 25 million doses of new anthrax vaccine.

The fast-track proposal, which calls for production to begin by late 2003, reflects the Bush administration’s ongoing concerns about bioterrorism.

“There is an urgent need to devise more effective measures to protect U.S. citizens from the harmful effects of anthrax spores used as instruments of terror,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said.

The new vaccine would have two major differences from the vaccine now used, primarily by the military: It would be produced by more modern procedures and could be used as a treatment after exposure.

Made by “recombinant” technology, the vaccine would consist of a purified version of immune response-provoking protein produced by batches of genetically engineered laboratory bacteria. The approach aims to exclude extraneous substances that don’t contribute to the vaccine’s efficacy and might cause side effects.

Early Retiree Tax Rules Eased

LOS ANGELES TIMES

The federal government said Thursday it has relaxed tax rules that penalize thousands of early retirees whose savings have been slammed by the bear market but stopped short of providing the same help to millions of older retirees who complain that they suffer from much the same problem.

“Taxpayers have worked hard to build their retirement savings. They shouldn’t be penalized when the market is down,” Pamela Olson, assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, said in a statement.

The change, effective immediately, eliminates tax penalties for early retirees who want to slow down their rate of withdrawal from qualified retirement plans such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts before they are 59 1/2.

“In all the previous rules and regulations, the possibility that a retirement account balance could decline from year to year was never even considered,” said Ed Slott, a retirement tax expert in New York. “But in the past couple of years, people’s retirement balances have not just been declining, they’re in a free-fall. This ruling has been long awaited.”

Experts say the effect of the declining market has hit early retirees -- whose numbers are estimated in the tens of thousands -- particularly hard. That’s mainly because early retirees who want to tap into qualified plans were forced to make an irrevocable decision when they retired that spelled out just how much they would withdraw each year.