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Cohen, Shelton Rap Times' Editorial on Anthrax Shots

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 14, 1999 – Halting mandatory anthrax shots would represent a "significant disservice" to men and women in uniform, Defense Secretary William Cohen and Gen. Henry Shelton said in a written rebuttal to the Army Times Publishing Co.

The July 12 editorial in the company's Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Times newspapers said DoD should let service members choose whether to receive the shots until more testing is done to determine if the vaccine may cause long-term health effects.

Cohen and Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said their greatest concern is to adequately protect service members serving in combat zones or anywhere anthrax may be a threat, and making vaccinations optional could diminish military battle readiness. At least 10 potential adversaries have worked to develop anthrax as an offensive weapon, they said.

"Our commanders must know that all, not simply some fraction, of their forces are protected from this biological threat," the secretary and chairman wrote. "Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines fight in teams, and they need to know that all team members are protected from anthrax."

The two defense leaders compared receiving the shots to wearing protective equipment. "Wearing helmets in battle isn't voluntary because everybody needs protection," they said. "The same is true of anthrax. Allowing a voluntary vaccination program is inadequate in the face of this deadly threat."

"It would be unconscionable not to protect our entire force with a safe and effective vaccine," they said. Immunization requires six shots over a period of 18 months. About 300,000 service members have begun the series since Cohen ordered the mandatory inoculations in early 1998, and about 1 million shots have been given to date.

Cohen and Shelton challenged an assertion the anthrax vaccine hasn't been properly tested for safety. They said the Food and Drug Administration first licensed the vaccine nearly 30 years ago, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and Institute of Medicine endorse its use.

They said the vaccine manufacturer, BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Mich., works under a compliance plan approved by the FDA to ensure quality and is on schedule to meet DoD needs.

For the full text of the Cohen-Shelton response, go to http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/anth_ed.html. [link no longer available]

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