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Defense Department Stocks Shelves with Newest Smallpox Vaccine

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2008 – The Defense Department has begun its transition to the next generation of smallpox vaccine.

The new ACAM2000 vaccine first hit the shelves at the Pentagon’s DiLorenzo Clinic last week from the Centers for Disease Control Strategic National Stockpile.

Since the disease’s eradication in December 1979, many manufacturers have quit producing smallpox vaccine, Army Col. Randall Anderson, director of DoD’s Military Vaccine Agency, said. But the military needs smallpox vaccine to inoculate troops against biological weapons that may contain the virus. No cure exists for the disease.

Wyeth, a global provider of pharmaceuticals and current manufacturer of Dryvax, is withdrawing its product license for the vaccine the department now uses. The ACAM2000 vaccine, made by Acambis, is derived from the same smallpox strain as Dryvax, but it is produced using modern cell-culture technology. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed it in August.

Acambis will provide a long-term, stable supply of the vaccine manufactured within the United States, Anderson said. The Defense Department gets the vaccine from CDC stockpiles in an interagency agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Anderson pointed out that the change will be transparent to those receiving the vaccination. Current policies and the way the vaccine is administered remain the same.

“For the person who is being vaccinated, it really won’t mean that much,” Anderson said.

Anderson called Dryvax a good vaccine that is very effective, but said the ACAM2000 vaccine uses more current technology. Dryvax can be used through March. After that, remaining Dryvax vaccine will be destroyed.

The Defense Department has inoculated more than 1.4 million people since it started vaccinating against the smallpox virus in 2002.

“Because the disease is contagious and deadly, the agent makes a favorable choice for those who wish to disrupt our society,” Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, wrote last week in his daily blog on the department’s Health Affairs Web site.

Vaccinations are required for all military, emergency-essential and equivalent civilian employees assigned to U.S. Central Command or the Korean peninsula for 15 or more consecutive days. The vaccine is offered to 18- to 65-year-old family members of those military and civilian employees.

People inoculated with the Dryvax vaccine do not need to be revaccinated with the ACAM2000 version sooner than the 10-year interval Defense Department policy dictates, officials said.

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Dr. S. Ward Casscells

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