DoD Expands Troop Anthrax, Smallpox Vaccinations
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 30, 2004 More U.S. service members - including those serving in South Korea -- will be vaccinated against smallpox and anthrax, the Defense Department's senior medical adviser said today.
The availability of additional smallpox and anthrax vaccine will enable the vaccination of all service members assigned to U.S. Central Command, and many serving in U.S. Pacific Command, including troops assigned on the Korean Peninsula, Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
Winkenwerder said he couldn't provide numbers of troops affected by the policy change, other than saying "tens of thousands" would be vaccinated. The policy change, he pointed out, wasn't precipitated by a definite increase of threat to troops.
"There is no substantial change to the threat situation," Winkenwerder asserted, noting the increased availability of both vaccines "will provide an additional layer of protection" for service members.
However, Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, a Joint Staff spokesman who accompanied the doctor at the briefing, reminded reporters that Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet had noted earlier this year that al Qaeda is interested in acquiring bio-weapons like smallpox and anthrax.
Central Command troops deployed to the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters of operation had been vaccinated against smallpox and anthrax, Winkenwerder noted. Now, he said, "all personnel in Central Command" will receive both vaccinations.
Troops serving in selected areas of PACOM, including South Korea, Winkenwerder reported, also will receive the anthrax and smallpox vaccines.
Responding to a reporter's question whether North Korea has a bio-weapons capability, Rodriguez responded by saying it's relatively not difficult to develop anthrax weapons.
The cost of administering more smallpox and anthrax shots will run into "the tens of millions of dollars," Winkenwerder said, but he added the program wouldn't strain his $30 billion-dollar overall budget.
Medical studies, Winkenwerder said, have shown that administration of the vaccines poses little threat to service members' health. Since June 2002, he noted, the Defense Department has vaccinated more than 750,000 troops against anthrax. That number, he said, increases to an aggregate of more than a million if vaccinations administered since 1998 are factored in. Since December 2002, he said, more than 625,000 troops received smallpox vaccinations.