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Gulf Troops to Receive Anthrax Vaccine

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 1998 – The 36,000 U.S. service members and civilians in the Persian Gulf will start receiving anthrax vaccine this week, Pentagon officials announced March 3.Immunization for all other active duty and reserve component service members will begin this summer. The immunizations are mandatory.

For full protection, service members must receive a series of six shots over an 18-month period. However, after one shot individuals develop some immunity in four to six weeks.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck, Army surgeon general, said DoD has extensively tested its anthrax vaccine beyond the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. He said the vaccine is the safest possible product with the potency to protect service members.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen in September 1997 ordered all service members be protected against the disease, a potential biological warfare hazard. At the time, he insisted four criteria be met: supplemental testing; immunization tracking; an operational and communications plan in place; and independent review.

"All four have been met," Blanck said.

The Army as executive agent performed the supplemental tests. These sometimes replicated FDA tests. The vaccine, from the Michigan Biological Products Institute, was found safe and potent.

DoD will track when and where service members receive their immunizations. Information will be available to all services through the Defense Eligibility and Enrollment Reporting System.

"This cuts across all services," Blanck said. "So, for example, if a Marine receives his first shot at an Army clinic in Kuwait and he reports to a ship in the region, the medics there can download the information and schedule him for his next shot." Blanck said DoD also will still use standard yellow immunization record booklets.

Blanck said U.S. Central Command has an operations and communications plan in place. "We learned the lessons of the Gulf War," he said. "We will give all the information service members need about side effects and why they are receiving these shots."

Finally, Dr. Gerard N. Burrow, special adviser to the President of Yale University's School of Medicine, reviewed the plan. In a letter to Defense Undersecretary Rudy de Leon, Burrows said, "The anthrax vaccine appears to be safe and offers the best available protection against wild-type anthrax as a biological warfare agent. Steps have been taken to ensure the safety and quality of the department's vaccine stockpile."

Anthrax is a bacterium found on the skin of sheep and cattle. People contract anthrax via skin contact or breathing. If anthrax gets on the skin it is not that serious --it causes a sore that, left untreated, allows anthrax to enter the body, Blanck said. If breathed in, however, anthrax triggers an overwhelming infectious process, he said. Victims who inhale the bacteria develop symptoms of pneumonia in two to four days. Death ensues 48 to 72 hours later. The mortality rate for anthrax is 95 percent.

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