Despite pledges two years ago to maintain a stockpile of drugs to protect Americans in the event of a bioterrorism attack, the federal government has so far set aside only 159 vials of anthrax vaccine for the civilian population, enough for only 530 people, according to congressional and administration officials.
The officials said the failure to transfer more of the vaccine from military to civilian control was caused by legal and bureaucratic wrangling among government agencies.
They also cited the government's desire to buy a new vaccine that is potentially both cheaper and more efficient. That vaccine has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Spokesmen for the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services denied that the delay would imperil the well-being of civilians, saying that BioPort, the nation's sole producer of licensed anthrax vaccine, was storing nearly a million doses - enough for more than 330,000 people.
"The bottom line is: If there is a civilian crisis that would require vaccination of the population, there is enough anthrax vaccine to do that," said Bill Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.
But a spokesman for BioPort and Pentagon officials said that the doses being stored are intended for the military, which announced in June that it was expanding its anthrax and smallpox vaccination program.