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Anthrax Program Officials Ready New Educational Products

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2000 – DoD anthrax experts are increasing their efforts to get service members and their families "good, credible information before they get disinformation" from other sources.

Army Col. Randy Randolph, director of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program Agency, said his organization is currently doing four things to improve the vaccine education program.

The first and perhaps farthest-reaching step is a 23-minute video going out to the services by late April or early May. "We decided we needed a training product that could be sent out worldwide that all commanders could use to inform service members and family members about the anthrax program," Randolph said.

He said the video includes information about the threat anthrax poses to U.S. service members, the lethality of anthrax, and the vaccine's safety, as well as addressing rumors circulating and damaging the program's credibility.

"It introduces some experts in DoD and many others outside of DoD who talk about these rumors and the credibility of the vaccine program," Randolph said. He said the video was designed with 18- to 25-year-olds in mind and will be mandatory watching for all service members within fiscal 2000.

The second, a toll-free information line, 1-877-GET-VACC, began in summer 1999. Program experts man it Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. Randolph said the agency could staff the line on evenings, weekends and holidays if the demand warrants, but that hasn't been necessary so far.

The third, a new Internet site at www.anthrax.osd.mil, is already up and running as well. Randolph said the site is an improvement over previous ones because it incorporates visitors' feedback and suggestions. He said his team is constantly adding information that people request on the Web site.

"If we hear about it when we're out on the road giving briefings, if someone calls us on the toll-free information line, if someone sends us an e-mail and says they're interested in a certain piece of information, then we add that piece of information on the Internet," Randolph said. "If there are articles circulating, then we put those on the Web site and comment about the information in those articles."

Randolph called the Internet site "the most important thing we've done to specifically address the misinformation on the Internet," and he said more changes are in store. Because information is added constantly to the Web site, it's grown too large to navigate easily, Randolph said. Yet another redesign, scheduled to be unveiled this summer, is intended to make the site easier to use.

The agency's fourth step is to add a public e-mail address to contact program officials. Individuals can e-mail comments, questions and concerns to avip@otsg.amedd.army.mil. The Web site has a direct e-mail link for visitors.

Randolph was quick to emphasize these products are additional steps in what has been an aggressive education process since the immunization program began in 1998. Previous education products, still updated and used, include educational pamphlets and a PowerPoint troop-education briefing available to commanders on the Web site.

"We've tried to provide factual information to service members and family members up front in the most direct way to inform them about the program," Randolph said. "We have made consistent, routine improvements to all of those products and created new products to reach wider audiences and better address their concerns." And he's not done yet.

"We are going to continue a very aggressive education effort until everyone understands what this program is about," he said. "There is a very real threat. This disease, if contracted in an unprotected population, is very lethal. We've got a vaccine that's as safe and effective as other vaccines that we routinely take and that we give our kids every day here in the United States."

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