News

Anthrax vaccination plan being developed for Reservists

U.S. Army Reserve Command News Release

ATLANTA, Ga., (Army News Service, Sept. 8, 1998) -- A program to vaccinate all Reservists for anthrax is being developed in conjunction with the Department of Defense Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Plan. The DoD plan is being implemented in three phases.

The first phase began in August for all soldiers deployed to the high-risk areas of Northeast and Southwest Asia. About 40 Reservists have been vaccinated as part of the phase one implementation. Some 35,000 troops in Korea are to begin receiving shots this month, according to Lt. Col. Randy Randolph, DoD's executive agent for the anthrax program.

Phase two will impact a larger number of Reservists. Over the next four years, soldiers identified for early deployment in the event of conflict, again in Southwest Asia and Korea, will be vaccinated. A program to inoculate all Reservists within a specific geographical region will begin early in calendar year 2000.

This pilot program will serve as a test for the delivery of the vaccine and tracking procedures for the inoculation of all Reservists during phase three, when the remainder of the force and all new recruits will begin receiving vaccinations, tentatively scheduled for 2003.

"We are working diligently to develop an inoculation plan that will be as user-friendly as possible for our commanders and soldiers," said Maj. Sandra Pufal, the USARC AVIP coordinator. More information about the pilot program will be provided as plans are finalized.

A total of six shots, given over a period of 18 months, are needed for a person to be fully vaccinated against anthrax. An annual booster shot will also be needed to maintain the effectiveness of the vaccine.

"This vaccine was approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) in 1970. It's been around for years," said Pufal. The anthrax vaccine has been routinely given in the U.S. to veterinarians, laboratory workers and livestock handlers for more than 25 years. There have been no reports of any serious side effects.

Anthrax is a disease normally associated with plant-eating animals such as sheep and cattle. Once common where livestock were raised, it is now controlled through animal vaccination programs.

Human infection usually results from direct contact with infected animals or animal products. However, when anthrax is used as a biological weapon, breathing anthrax that is released in the air infects people.

Symptoms generally occur one to six days after exposure, but they can occur as early as 24 hours or as late as seven weeks after breathing bacteria-infected spores. Death occurs anywhere from 24 to 36 hours after symptoms appear.

FDA officials said protection increases as more shots in the series are given, but soldiers should know that substantial protection against anthrax toxins is achieved after the first three doses of vaccine.

In December, Secretary of Defense William Cohen directed all services to proceed with plans to vaccinate all active duty and reserve personnel with the FDA-licensed anthrax vaccine. This decision was based on biological warfare threat assessments and is intended to provide maximum protection to all service members. The vaccination is the safest way to protect against a potential threat that is 99% lethal to unprotected individuals.

A variety of brochures and information papers concerning the anthrax vaccination program have been distributed through the chain of command.

(Editor's note: Information from Soldiers magazine was added to this article.)