News

Total-Force Anthrax Shots Start

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service - 08/17/98

WASHINGTON -- Anthrax vaccinations start this week for service members deploying 
to Southwest Asia and Korea, and shots for those already in Korea will begin in 
early September, DoD officials announced Aug. 14.

DoD's announcement marks the beginning of a three-phase vaccination program for 
all 2.4 million active duty and reserve component service members. About 48,000 
service members already in Southwest Asia have been receiving shots through an 
accelerated immunization program. 

Rear Adm. Michael Cowan called anthrax "the poor man's atomic bomb" and said the 
vaccination takes that weapon out of an aggressor's arsenal. Cowan is deputy 
director for medical readiness at the Joint Staff. 

Anthrax is a livestock disease the Iraqis are known to have refined into a 
biological agent. Exposure is nearly always fatal to the unprotected.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen ordered a total-force anthrax vaccination 
program in December 1997. In March, he ordered U.S. personnel in Southwest Asia 
to receive shots following a U.N. confrontation with Iraqi dictator Saddam 
Hussein over weapons inspections, the ejection of U.S. inspectors and threats to 
U.S. and allied personnel in the area. 

Phase 1 of the vaccination program calls for an estimated 200,000 service 
members going to high-threat areas, such as Southwest Asia and Korea, to receive 
vaccinations over the next two fiscal years. 

Phase 2, starting in fiscal 2000, is for personnel in early deploying units to 
high-threat areas, officials said. About 300,000 personnel per year will receive 
the vaccine through fiscal 2003.

Phase 3 begins in fiscal 2003 and covers the remainder of the force and 
recruits.

Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the 
anthrax vaccine, in use since 1971, is safe, licensed by the Food and Drug 
Administration and effective against all known anthrax strains. For total 
immunity, service members must receive six shots over an 18-month period 
followed by an annual booster shot. However, tests show service members will 
receive a degree of protection after only two inoculations.

Bailey said seven adverse reactions which may be directly related to the vaccine 
have been reported out of the 133,870 shots administered so far. Six cases were 
minor. The seventh involves a service member who contracted Guillain-Barre 
Syndrome shortly after receiving his third anthrax inoculation. According to the 
National Institutes of Health, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare inflammatory 
disorder that affects the nervous system. It is occasionally triggered by such 
unrelated events as pregnancy, surgery, and vaccinations. The service member was 
doing well one month after the onset of his illness, officials said.

The anthrax vaccination is mandatory -- all 16 service members who have refused 
shots to date have received nonjudicial punishment. "We consider service members 
getting the shot in the same way we tell them to wear their helmets," Cowan 
said.

"[Anthrax] is a lethal weapon we need to protect [service members] against, and 
we have the means to do so," Bailey said. 

Cowan and Bailey said DoD is looking at vaccinations against other possible 
biological agents. Bailey said DoD knows of 10 nations doing chemical/biological 
weapon research. "Our overarching policy is, if we recognize a threat, and a 
safe vaccine exists to combat it, then we should use it," Cowan said.

For more information about anthrax and DoD's vaccination program, visit the DoD 
Web site at  
www.defenselink.mil/other_info/protection.html.

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