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TRANSCRIPT

[EXCERPTS] DoD News Briefing

Thursday, May 21, 1998 - 1:30 p.m. (EDT)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA) 

 
 

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Q: It was recently reported that the Department of Defense will start stockpiling vaccines for biological weapons. Why now?

A: First of all, we made a decision to do that some time ago and there was a contract issued last fall to a local company to begin the process of stockpiling vaccines. There was a fairly long list of vaccines that were laid out. I think we issued a news release on this in November, on November 7th, last year.

We've done this as part of a very broad force medical protection plan. The most publicized part of that plan is the decision to vaccinate the total force for anthrax that Secretary Cohen announced last year, and of course we've already begun with the forces in the Gulf. But there are other parts of that plan that range from creating better protective clothing, better detection devices for biological agents, and also beginning to stockpile vaccines that would be necessary to protect our troops from various biological threats, and some of these threats are smallpox, Q Fever vaccine, and there could be a range of other vaccines that we'll look at in the future if they can become developed and pass the FDA screening techniques.

But this is a military program and it's one that got underway last year with the award of a contract.

Q: So it is distinct from the story in the Post today about doing that for the civilian population?

A: I'm not going to comment on what the President will say tomorrow at his widely anticipated address at the Naval Academy. The Post story did talk about civilians. I'm talking about people in the military. The contract that we let last year dealt only with the military, and it was designed to stockpile a variety of vaccines for the military.

Q: About the anthrax, the single facility where it comes from which is being renovated and is not producing, as I understand it, anthrax vaccine at the time. I know you have said that DoD has enough anthrax vaccine to do the whole force in the Gulf, but ultimately you want to do everybody else. I wonder what your stockpiles of anthrax are now. Could you -- do you have enough to do them, or would you have to wait...

A: There are several million doses, I think maybe as many as seven million doses already available. I don't have the exact figures, but we can get those. We have enough now to do what we need to do.

The vaccination process takes 18 months and it involves six shots. There are 2.4 million people in the active and reserve military. Obviously they won't all be vaccinated at once, and there will be rules about people who are about to get out, may not begin the vaccination routine, etc. But those details are being worked out.

We're confident that the combination of the stockpile we have now, much of the stockpile has been rechecked and rechecked for purity, sterility, potency, etc. The combination of that existing stockpile and the productive capacity, we anticipate that we will be able to meet the needs.

I do not know for a fact that that plant is still closed. I know it was closed for some pre-scheduled maintenance in January, I believe. I don't know whether that maintenance has been performed or not, but we can find that out.

Q: It was a long renovation that was going to take some months...

A: Well, of course some months have elapsed since January. We can get the facts on that. But we have looked very closely at the combination of the stockpile and the projected productive capacity.

Q: Are you talking about anthrax or the...

A: I'm talking about anthrax.

Q: Can you elaborate, for us, on how the stockpile works? For example, are these vaccines now disbursed around the country at various military bases so that there's easy access if there was an attack in a particular part of the country? Is that contemplated?

A: I think that there will be some forward positioning of vaccines to fit various threat profiles. I'm not sure we're there yet. The contract that we let last year was a $322 million contract to begin stockpiling a list of vaccines, and the first tranche was for $25 million, so this is clearly something that's going to take -- the first tranche was less than 10 percent of the total -- this is clearly something that will take some time.

There's still a lot of scientific work that has to be done in a number of these vaccines in terms of developing them and achieving FDA approval. And that's part of the task that the company, which is called Dynport Limited Liability Corporation took on.

Q: But the Pentagon is putting a network in place, if you will, all over the United States where, presumably, vaccines might be made available.

A: I don't know the details of that, but tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 o'clock we're going to have a background briefing. Three generals will be here to answer precisely that type of question. They can talk to you about anthrax, they can talk to you about the vaccine program, and they can talk to you about other protective steps that are being taken.

Q: When you said (inaudible), you do mean domestically, though?

A: Our troops don't fight domestically, they fight abroad, so my guess is that we would look at some combination of domestic stockpiles and foreign distribution centers where we would keep troops -- near where our troops are.

Q: Is there any necessity for that place that's going to be producing the anthrax to get the contract done first for the military before there's any effort to make vaccine for the civilians?

A: That's a legal issue I can't answer. We have clearly dibs on a pretty long production run. I don't know how other demand would fit into that.

Of course the anthrax vaccine has been used by veterinarians and others in the population for decades. This factory has been producing vaccine for many, many civilians who used this, as well as some military people -- special forces and others who may need this vaccine -- long before we made the decision to start vaccinating people in the Gulf.

Q: When will inoculations of other troops outside of the Gulf begin?

A: That's something we might have more on in the next couple of days.

Q: Can you update us at all on the progress that's been made in implementing the announcement you made, I guess, late last year about creating special units in the Guard to assist law enforcement in response to chemical and biological... Is that anywhere near actually happening?

A: Yes, it is, and I anticipate the President will have something to say about that tomorrow, and I anticipate the background briefers will have something to say about that tomorrow as well.

Q: If they were to give vaccinations to civilians, who would be the first civilians to receive the vaccinations?

A: Well, I think you can appreciate that I haven't quite mastered all the facts of the military vaccination program so I'm a little hesitant to venture out into the civilian side. That's really something you should ask the White House or HHS. ................

Press: Thank you.