News


Personnel Most Exposed to Get Anthrax Vaccine First 

12 June 1998

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

        WASHINGTON -- Service members most vulnerable to an anthrax 
attack will be the first inoculated against the biological weapon, the 
Army's top doctor said here recently.
        Lt. Gen. Ronald R. Blanck, Army surgeon general, said the total 
force inoculation program will begin in August. The Army is the lead 
agent for the DoD program.
        The Joint Chiefs of Staff will determine which units receive the 
vaccine first. The vaccination schedule is classified. "By and large 
the folks who respond first will get the immunization first," Blanck 
said. He said he assumed overseas members would be high up the list.
        All active and reserve component members will receive the 
vaccinations. Some reserve component members may receive the shots 
before active duty personnel if their jobs could expose them to 
biological attack, said Army Surgeon General officials. The Army will 
offer the vaccine to U.S. government civilian employees if they are 
deployed or employed in danger areas.
        President Clinton announced the expansion of the vaccination 
program May 22 during the Naval Academy commencement in Annapolis, Md. 
Troops in the Persian Gulf region -- most at risk to an Iraqi 
biological attack -- started the inoculations in March. To date, more 
than 40,000 service members based in that region, or going there, have 
started the six-shot series.
        Blanck said the shots are safe. The FDA approved the vaccine in 
the early 1970s, and civilian experience validates its safety. Still, 
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen set four conditions before starting 
inoculation. 
        First, he ordered supplemental testing of the vaccine produced by 
Michigan Biologic Products Institute. Second, the services had to 
assure tracking of every vaccination. Third, DoD and the services had 
to devise a plan to educate service members about the inoculation 
program. Finally, DoD would proceed only if an external review showed 
the program was safe and would protect service members.
        "Those have all been completed, and it was based on meeting those 
four preconditions that [Secretary Cohen] allowed us to proceed in 
March with the in-theater immunization of folks in Southwest Asia," a 
senior military official said during a background briefing.
        After the first shot, service members receive the others at two 
weeks, four weeks, six months, 12 months and 18 months. Annual booster 
shots maintain their protection. The entire series costs about $20 per 
person. It will take five to seven years to inoculate all service 
members. 
        "Of course, it will never actually be completed, because we 
always have new people coming into the force," Blanck said.
        To date, he said, the most common side effect service members 
have experienced is arm soreness. 
        "This is not a live vaccine. It is a killed bacteria, so you 
would not expect there to be side effects from the shot itself," he 
said. "The antibodies that [the vaccine] produces can sometimes cause 
that local soreness. I suspect that we'll see more of that when folks 
get into their fifth and sixth shot."
        Blanck said DoD is assessing other biological threats. He named 
plague, Q-fever, tularemia and botulinum as some germs enemies could 
use against U.S. forces. He said Army surgeon general researchers are 
working on vaccines to counter these threats.


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