Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen announced today that Phase I of the Total Force Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program will begin next week with Service members deploying to Southwest Asia and Korea. Immunizations for those active duty personnel and Selected Reserves already assigned and located in Korea will begin in early September.
"I have approved implementation of the Anthrax Vaccination Program for the total force. This is an efficient, effective and safe way to protect our forces against an emerging threat. Vaccinations of the active components and Selected Reserve shall proceed consistent with all specifications of the Food and Drug Administration," Cohen explained.
"The beginning of Phase I is the next step in a comprehensive Force Health Protection plan that was mandated by President Clinton last May. The vaccination program is proceeding extremely well. As of August 9, 1998, more than 48,000 Service members have received the anthrax vaccine immunization as part of the accelerated Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program for Southwest Asia," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Sue Bailey said.
Eventually, all 2.4 million military Service members in the active and Reserve components will receive the FDA-licensed anthrax vaccine. The phased vaccination program will take six to seven years to complete. The Anthrax Vaccination Program is part of the Force Health Protection Plan.
Cohen announced the total force vaccination plans in December 1997. In March 1998 the vaccination program was accelerated for troops assigned or deploying to Southwest Asia. After a three-year study, Cohen concluded that the vaccination is the safest way to protect highly mobile U.S. military forces against a potential threat that is 99 percent lethal to unprotected individuals. He and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both started taking the anthrax vaccinations, and both have to date taken four of the six shots required.
The immunization program consists of a series of six inoculations per Service member over an 18-month period, followed by an annual booster. Although protection levels increase as shots in the series are given, the entire six-shot series is required for full protection, as determined by the FDA. The cost to immunize an estimated 2.4 million military people is approximately $130 million.
There have been seven adverse reaction reports following receipt of the anthrax vaccine, out of 133,870 anthrax immunizations (.005 percent). These reactions may or may not be directly attributed to the vaccine. Six of these were minor adverse effects and all Service members returned back to duty. One Service member had a more severe illness (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) that began shortly after receiving his third dose of anthrax vaccine. Guillain-Barre Syndrome is uncommon, but also has been reported among persons who have received other vaccines and seemingly unrelated events such as surgery, insect stings, and various immunizations. The Service member was doing well one month after the onset of his illness.
Thirteen Navy and three Air Force personnel have refused the vaccination series and all have received non-judicial punishment with two receiving administrative discharges for other previous misconduct, and two pending administrative discharges related to their refusal to take the anthrax immunization. The shots are mandatory and are considered a prudent action.
The Secretary of the Army is the executive agent for the Defense Department's Anthrax Vaccination Program and is overseeing implementation of the program within the Services.
More information about the Defense Department's anthrax vaccination program is available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.defenselink.mil/other_info/protection.html.