DoD Slows Anthrax Vaccination Program Again (CORRECTED COPY)
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 11, 2001 (Editor's note: This copy includes the insertion of June 11, missing in the first paragraph of the original, and it also corrects other minor textual problems.)
DoD is further curtailing the anthrax immunization program due to inadequate supplies of the vaccine, DoD officials said June 11.
Effective immediately only service members assigned to "special mission units" will receive the six-shot series.
The action is necessary because of delays in DoD receiving FDA-approved vaccine from Bioport, the sole source of the vaccine.
Officials said they estimate Food and Drug Administration approval of the Bioport Lansing, Mich., facilities for full production around first quarter 2002, however that is not definite, said Marine Maj. Gen. Randall West, special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense for chemical and biological protection. "We have not yet been able to re-establish the supply of certified safe and effective vaccine to continue the program on the schedule," West said during an interview with American Forces Information Service.
He said the contractor is working to achieve FDA approval of the new expanded Bioport manufacturing facility as soon as possible. There are currently a bit more than 24,000 doses of vaccine available for use now.
But until then, DoD will conserve the dwindling supply of approved vaccine. West said only small special operations units, people working on research and some congressionally mandated studies will continue to receive the vaccine.
This is the third slowdown for the immunization program. In December 1999, DoD stopped inoculating service members other than those deploying to Korea and the Persian Gulf. In November 2000, DoD stopped inoculating service members bound for Korea. Now service members deploying to Southwest Asia will stop receiving the vaccine.
"I wish we had vaccine available to continue the protocols and to continue vaccinating all of our people deploying there," West said.
About 13,000 U.S. service members are deployed to Southwest Asia. DoD and U.S. Central Command will have sufficient antibiotics on hand for post-exposure treatment in case of an attack.
"We'll also have to rely on an even greater way on our forms of protections: chemical/biological protection suits, detectors, intelligence collection and gathering," West said.
West said, in his opinion, it is imperative that DoD resume the vaccination regime as soon as possible. "The sooner we can provide this vaccination protection to the entire force, the better I'll sleep at night," he said. "The weaponized form of anthrax can be delivered by several munitions, is a very deadly threat. You can't see this, you can't smell it, you can't taste it, it's very difficult to detect and if you haven't been vaccinated, by the time you detect symptoms of anthrax, it's too late to save a person's life."
"When we do have the vaccine replenished the first place the vaccine will go is Southwest Asia," West said. "Army Gen. Tommie Franks (commander, U.S. Central Command) is very concerned about this slowdown."