The Department of Defense announced today an extension of its anthrax vaccination program that extends the program to include personnel serving on temporary duty in high threat areas in Southwest Asia and the Korean peninsula.
Effective immediately, all U.S. military personnel and DoD emergency essential civilians and contractors who travel to Southwest Asia and the Korean peninsula will receive the anthrax vaccination series. Previously, only personnel deploying for more than 30 days to the high threat areas were required to begin the series. The expanded program will provide equal protection to all U.S. personnel assigned, deployed or on temporary duty in high threat areas for any length of time. Ideally, personnel would receive at least the first three of the six-shot series of anthrax vaccinations prior to going to either region.
When the initial phase of the vaccine program began in March 1998, temporary duty personnel were excluded. The limited initial population ensured availability of vaccine, facilitated implementation and education on the use of new immunization tracking systems, and permitted a smooth transition for leaders to educate service members on the threat and the purpose of this program. The 30-day rule was a timeline established to facilitate initial implementation. The growing maturity of the program allows us to provide protection for all U.S. military personnel and DoD emergency essential civilians and contractors who spend any length of time in the high threat areas from the moment they arrive.
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen announced total force vaccination plans in December 1997. In March 1998 the vaccination program was accelerated for troops assigned or deploying to Southwest Asia. After three years of 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.
Since the program's inception, the Department has carried out total force vaccination in a phased approach. Phase I required the vaccination of all uniformed service members and emergency essential DoD civilians and contractors assigned, attached, on temporary duty or otherwise expected to deploy into the high threat areas of Southwest Asia and the Korean peninsula for periods greater than 30 days. The announced extension refines Phase I to direct vaccination of personnel in the high threat areas for any period of time.
Phase I will continue until the end of fiscal 1999. Phase II will start once production is assured at Bioport, the vaccine manufacturer in Lansing, Mich. Phase II will vaccinate specified units that are identified in advance to deploy into the high threat areas within 35 days of an order. Phase II is projected to begin in August or September this year. Beginning sometime around 2003, Phase III will provide vaccinations to the remainder of the armed forces and new recruits.
The immunization program consists of a series of six vaccinations per servicemember 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 Food and Drug Administration.
The Secretary of the Army is the executive agent for the Department's anthrax vaccination program and is overseeing implementation of the program within the Services.
More information about the Department's anthrax vaccination program is available on the worldwide web at: http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/Anthrax.