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Anthrax Vaccine Safe, Effective, Health Chief Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 24, 1999 – With almost a million shots given, the anthrax immunization is proving to be one of the safest vaccination program on record, said Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

The vaccine that we are administering to our troops for protection against anthrax is effective and entirely safe, Bailey said during a Pentagon interview.

She said service members are experiencing few serious adverse reactions from the shots. The most recent reports show only 14 reactions were serious enough that the service members had to be off work for 24 hours or more or hospitalized, she said. Those who had those kinds of reactions have fully recovered, she added.

As of June 16, 935,632 separate shots had been administered. With 102 total reactions reported, including the 14 serious reactions, this means only .01 percent of the shots caused an adverse reaction. This is a lower rate of reaction than one gets with a [diptheria, pertussis, tetanus] shot administered to children, Bailey said.

Bailey countered reports that the vaccine was somehow tainted with a substance called squalene. Squalene is a substance that appears naturally in everyones body, she explained. You also find it in a lot of beauty products and in some health food products, she said. But, squalene has never been used in the anthrax immunization vaccine production, and it is not now present.

Following the reports, DoD contracted with a civilian laboratory that tested the vaccine for squalene and found there is no squalene in the anthrax vaccine we are using, she said.

Bailey said the vaccine DoD uses is effective. [Anthrax is] so deadly, we dont test humans, she said. We rely upon non-human primate testing to give us the information about the efficacy of the vaccine. And that shows it to be very effective in protecting against anthrax.

The anthrax vaccine the department uses is licensed by the Food and Drug Administration and has been since 1970, Bailey said. The vaccine stocks have undergone DoD-mandated supplemental testing performed by the manufacturer and overseen by a private, independent firm.

Since 1970, there have been no reports of long-term adverse health effects from the anthrax vaccine. Howerver, DoD continues to study the vaccine. We have a study underway at the U.S. Army Medical Insitute of Infectious Diseases to determine whether individuals who received multiple vaccines, including anthrax, demonstrate any adverse health effects over the long term, Bailey said. DoD has another study underway at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. A total of 570 medical workers who have received the series are being studied so DoD can get on-going information that we can project into the future about effects of the anthrax vaccine.

The anthrax vaccination program is a series of six shots stretching over 18 months. DoD started immunizing service members most in danger from anthrax -- those in or going to Southwest Asia. In May 1998, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen approved a plan to inoculate all service members against the disease.

Anthrax is a deadly bacteria, Bailey said. If you were exposed to weaponized anthrax spores and were not immunized, you would develop symptoms and die. Antibiotics alone cannot save you once you display the symptoms. We feel it is our responsibility to provide for the best protection and we do so through the immunization program.

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