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Commentary: Fear anthrax, not the vaccine

Released: 31 Mar 1999


by Lt. Gen. Charles H. Roadman II
Air Force Surgeon General

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- When it comes to anthrax, there is one clear and simple truth: if you are not vaccinated and you inhale anthrax, you will almost certainly die. Period.

As surgeon general, it is my duty to protect the health of airmen. This duty also requires me to be the Air Force's point man in the war to combat diseases turned into weapons of mass destruction. Our greatest biological enemy right now is anthrax, and our strongest weapon against it is vaccination.

I personally have no doubts or concerns about the anthrax vaccine. As a physician, a husband and a father, I certainly wouldn't ask anyone to do something I wouldn't do myself. I have completed my anthrax vaccine series and have no worries about its safety and effectiveness. In fact, I am so convinced of the vaccine's life-saving benefits, I would encourage my own family to receive the shots if the availability develops.

The reason I'm so convinced of the anthrax vaccine's safety is because the science supporting it is long-standing and credible. This is not a new or experimental vaccine. It has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration and in use for almost 30 years in both the civilian and military populations. There has never been any question of its effectiveness and safety. What is in question are people's perceptions, simply because this vaccine is relatively unfamiliar.

Many years ago, people were unfamiliar with the smallpox and polio vaccines. Although some may have initially feared the vaccines, people quickly understood the consequences if they were not inoculated. The fear of the disease quickly outweighed the fear of the vaccines.

Unfortunately, the anthrax vaccine has been getting unreasonable criticism in some circles. In particular, a few people have posted incorrect information on Internet sites and distributed it through email campaigns. Although their intentions may seem well meaning, these critics try to build fear about the vaccine. Yet, it is interesting to note they say little about the horrifying consequences of contracting anthrax. Truly accurate information will make it evident to fear the disease, not the vaccine.

As an expeditionary force, we must be ready to deploy anywhere, anytime. This means we must be ready on a moment's notice with people who are fit and healthy. If our country must send us into harm's way, we have to be equipped with every possible form of protection available. Losing even one person when it can be prevented is inexcusable. That's why it is mandatory for all service members to be vaccinated.

Mass casualties would also degrade our mission capability. We wouldn't send people into battle without helmets and weapons, so we should also provide the best possible armor against biological dangers. That armor is immunization.

Commanders, airmen and family members must become informed about anthrax. Be sure to get accurate facts from reliable sources. Ask your commander about the threat. Ask your doctor about the vaccine. Then keep in mind three things: The threat is very real. Anthrax is a killer. The vaccine will save your life.

For more information about anthrax, check out http://www.af.mil/current/anthrax, http://www.defenselink.mil or http://www.cdc.gov.

RELATED SITES

* Food and Drug Administration
* Lt. Gen Charles H. Roadman II