DoD Anthrax Vaccination Program Proceeds Well
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 20, 1998 With more than 25,000 service members started in the anthrax vaccination program in the Persian Gulf region, officials said it is going well, and troops are getting all the facts.
DoD is learning from the accelerated vaccination program designed to protect military and civilian personnel from biological attack. Officials acknowledge their assessment doesn't mean everything worked perfectly. They said they are adjusting procedures before expanding the program throughout DoD.
The main lesson learned, one official said, was the need for "clean, factual communication. Service members have to feel confident about the reliability of the program."
Officials said some service members got all sorts of information -- some incorrect -- from external sources such as the Internet and e-mail. They said an improved DoD Health Affairs web site makes anthrax information easier to access. Service members can access the site at www.ha.osd.mil. The site can also be reached through www.defenselink.mil under "other information."
Health Affairs officials have asked commands to make anthrax information more visible on their web sites. "[E-mail and the web] are very powerful tools that we can use to our advantage to educate and inform our troops," said Army Maj. Gen. Robert Claypool, deputy assistant secretary of defense for health operations policy.
Officials were particularly pleased with the cooperation between the medical and line communities. "Commanders see anthrax as a operational issue," an official said. "As a result, [troop commanders] got intimately involved with disseminating information to their subordinates."
Claypool said commanders enthusiastically support the program because they consider inoculation a force protection issue, not just a medical one. "In many cases, they were the first ones in line to get the shots," Claypool said. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton set the example when they started the shot series March 2. The secretary and chairman have now received their third shots.
When Cohen announced the initiative in December, he insisted service members receive all pertinent information before being inoculated. The process used by all services is for medical personnel to brief units on the inoculations then to provide individual counseling for those who desire it. Service members who still have questions get additional opportunities to talk to medical professionals, Claypool said.
Each of the services is handling anthrax vaccinations somewhat differently, but all are handling them well, officials said. One concern is tracking -- especially of service members who go in and out of the area of operations. "We believe we have a handle on this," an official said. "But this is something we are going to have to keep an eye on."
The anthrax vaccination consists of a series of six shots over an 18-month period. Protection increases with each shot. Officials stressed the inoculation is safe. Only two patients developed reactions that may have been related to the injection: one had a fever and muscle aches, while another developed a skin rash. Providers prudently withheld further injections of those individuals pending clinical evaluations. The most common reaction has been minor knotting in the arm muscle where the shot was received.
DoD officials confirmed some service members in the region have refused to get the shots, but the number is small. The services are taking appropriate administrative action against those who have refused direct orders to participate in the mandatory immunization program.
Officials said service members will get more time to digest the information about the program before its scheduled expansion later this year. They said the experiences in the gulf will allow them to increase the effectiveness of the vaccination education program.
"If you're 20 miles from the Iraqi border, you don't have as much trouble to convince people to get the shots," Claypool said.