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25 Years of Anthrax Shots: First-hand Accounts of Vaccine Safety

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

FORT DETRICK, Md., March 12, 1999 – John Kondig began receiving anthrax vaccinations more than 25 years ago. Then, he was a soldier working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's research laboratory, here.

Today, Kondig still works as a research chemist in the facility, now called the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. And he and fellow researchers still get regular anthrax boosters as well as many other vaccinations against biological agents. For Kondig, it's a matter of playing it safe.

"If you think you may be going to an area where anthrax is endemic, I would take the vaccination, just as a safety precaution," he said. "It's a much safer situation than risking the disease. If there's a vaccine for something that you're going to be working with, I've always felt it wiser to take the vaccination."

Kondig said he's never doubted the anthrax vaccine's safety.

"I've been involved enough in producing vaccines for trial tests to know what kind of work goes into making those safe and effective," he said. "I never had any questions about taking them."

Kondig said nearly all his laboratory colleagues receive anthrax inoculations and none has experienced problems from the shot aside from some initial soreness that quickly dissipates. One of his relatively new colleagues, Army Spc. Amber Stanley, said she has never suffered any pain from the shot. And, after seeing the effects of anthrax on laboratory rabbits, she's glad she has the protection the shots provide.

Stanley didn't know much about anthrax when she arrived at Fort Detrick in 1997. She was told the shots were necessary for her line of work.

"We have an ongoing anthrax protocol," said the specialist, who plans a career in environmental science after completing her current master's degree program. "Being a small-animal technician, I go [to the bio-contaminant area] and 'bleed' infected rabbits."

Having seen rabbits that survived because they received anthrax vaccinations, and unvaccinated rabbits that died, she's convinced of the need to get the shots.

"I don't think it's very intelligent of people not to get the shots," she said. "I've seen the vaccine work on the animals. I've seen them survive against different anthrax strains. I feel safer going in there, especially working with needles."

Stanley said it's difficult watching unvaccinated rabbits die from anthrax. "How graphic would you like me to be?" she asked, without a hint of a smile.

"After being infected, they become increasingly lethargic," she said. "Their eyes get runny. It's difficult to [draw blood from them] because they get very dehydrated. And then, in about seven days, it's almost like a rabid effect. They convulse, and then that's it. They're gone really quick. It's nasty.

"Everyone here has had the shots, and I haven't met anyone who's had any problems," Stanley said. "I wouldn't recommend not getting them."

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