Anthrax Shots Needle Troops, Protection Is Upshot
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Jun. 30, 1998 "Do I have to take this shot?" is the question service members most often ask about the new DoD anthrax mass-vaccination program. It comes up, too, during discussions of Gulf War illnesses. The first inoculations were given to American troops during the Gulf War.
The current plan to immunize every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine answers another question military leaders have asked since the war: "How can we better protect our men and women against weapons of mass destruction?"
Besides wondering if they have to get the series of six anthrax shots -- the answer is yes, it's a legal binding order -- service members also wonder how safe the vaccine is.
"It was approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] 28 years ago," Army Dr. (Col.) Francis O'Donnell, said here June 17. He is the medical adviser to Bernard Rostker, DoD's special assistant on Gulf War illnesses.
O'Donnell said questions about anthrax often come up at meetings to share information with veterans of the Gulf War and to seek input for the department's investigation.
"The anthrax vaccination is safe and effective," he said. "You'll probably get a little soreness in the arm, is all."
Although the FDA has approved a six-shot series of anthrax inoculations for maximum protection, primate tests and a shortage of the vaccine in 1990-91 spurred DoD to give Persian Gulf-bound troops fewer shots. According to O'Donnell, 1990 tests on primates showed that just two shots provided well over 50 percent protection against airborne anthrax spores. Based on test results, DoD then vaccinated some 150,000 Persian Gulf-bound service members.
"We had neither the quantities of anthrax vaccine needed nor the time required to administer the full regimen," O'Donnell said. "With the encouraging evidence from the primate studies, we felt pretty good about being able to use two shots and give as much protection to as many people as possible."
In December 1997, DoD announced plans to inoculate all service members -- including future recruits -- with the six-shot regimen. The course of shots requires 18 months to complete. "But in the long term," O'Donnell said, "we'll have a force that at all times is protected."