Released: 9 Feb 2000
At the beginning of February, of the nearly 1.4 million doses of the anthrax vaccine administered to more than 400,000 service members across the Defense Department, only 620 individuals have submitted reports of adverse reactions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Air Force surgeon general's office.
Those cases are being reviewed by the Anthrax Vaccine Expert Committee, an independent panel of civilian medical experts sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
From the committee's most recent review in early January, 76 of the reports were most likely caused by the anthrax vaccine. The most common reactions are temporary redness, swelling or a small lump at the injection site. Side effects from the vaccine are frequently less than those caused by other routine vaccinations that most Americans receive, such as DPT and tetanus.
Defense officials also have requested some of the country's leading immunologists, from institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control, to review its program and findings. They too have verified there have been no unusual or unexpected side effects from the vaccines administered to service members.
"Anthrax is a known and very real threat," said Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Paul K. Carlton Jr., Air Force surgeon general. "Every day U.S. forces inch increasingly closer to encountering that threat. We know anthrax is produced by several countries around the world, including some of our potential adversaries. Any use of this biological weapon is certain to cause widespread illness and death among unprotected U.S. forces."
The anthrax vaccine is not a new or experimental vaccine. It is fully licensed by the FDA and has been in use since 1970. Additionally, no vaccine is released without FDA approval for its safety, sterility, purity and potency. The vaccination consists of six inoculations over 18 months, followed by an annual booster.
"We are fortunate to have a vaccine that is both safe and effective," Carlton said. "It would be morally irresponsible for Air Force leaders and the entire Department of Defense not to protect our troops against this lethal threat."
Air Force leaders continue to encourage military members to educate themselves and their families about the vaccine, but to verify sources of information and ensure the information they receive is from credible sources. Members who experience reactions are encouraged to report them to their local military treatment facility or directly to the FDA at 1-800-822-7967.
** DOD Anthrax Web Site
** Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
** U.S. Food and Drug Administration