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Pentagon Repeats: Anthrax Vaccine is Safe

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 1999 – Pentagon officials insist the mandatory anthrax vaccine has proven to be safe.

"It's safe and reliable," Pentagon Spokesman Ken Bacon said. "It works and has no side effects."

Reporters queried Bacon about the vaccine Jan. 21 during a Pentagon briefing after eight pilots from Connecticut's Air National Guard 103rd Fighter Wing said they planned to resign rather than take the six-shot series. The unit, which flies A-10 Thunderbolts, is scheduled to deploy to the Gulf later this year.

The anthrax vaccine is mandatory for all service members, active duty and reserve, but priority is being given to people going to Southwest Asia and Korea, Bacon explained. "After that, people who are likely to deploy to these or other hot spots are in line to get the shots," he said.

Bacon reported that during exit interviews, six of the eight Connecticut pilots said anthrax was only one of many factors that entered into their decision to resign. "Some may have found that the pressures of staying in the air guard and training were hard to balance with their family or business lives," he said. "Some may not have wanted to deploy to the Gulf for personal reasons."

As of Jan. 12, Bacon said, 166,233 service members have received 463,226 shots. This includes the Defense Department's top civilian and military leaders, he added. "All of these people are fine," Bacon said.

Anthrax shots are "a very safe and very important force protection measure" aimed at protecting people from the risks they could face on the battlefield, Bacon said. "Biological warfare is one of the emerging threats we face."

The vaccine was certified by the Food and Drug Administration certified the vaccine in 1970. Since then, veterinarians, laboratory workers and livestock handlers have used the vaccine, Bacon said.

Every vaccine poses some risks, however, Bacon noted. "There have been some reactions to the vaccine. The reactions tend to be extremely minor - a little redness on the arm, for instance. A serious reaction is one that might involve a slightly elevated fever."

This has generally been an extremely successful program," Bacon said. "I think soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines understand this is for their own protection. We have found that almost all willingly take these shots."

For more information on the anthrax immunization program, go to the DoD web site "Countering the Anthrax Threat" at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/Anthrax/.

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