Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. In light of Secretary Cohen's force protection decision to start vaccinating soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in the Gulf with anthrax vaccine, we're going to start the briefing with LT GEN Ronald Blanck, who is the Army Surgeon General, and he'll make a brief statement about the vaccination decision, and then take your questions.
I want to point out that the Army is the executive agent for this program. So as we expand it from the Gulf to the entire active and reserve force, as Secretary Cohen decided to do last year, it's the Army that will be administering the program, service-wide.
LTG Blanck: Good afternoon. I would like to very briefly cover what we're doing with the anthrax vaccine immunization program, and talk about it as one of the ways that we are trying to provide to the best possible -- in the best possible way that we can, force protection for all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
You will recall that in December of 1997, the Secretary of Defense conditionally approved this program because of the threats that have been reported, and because we knew we had some ways to offer this protection; however, he said before he approves it, there need to be four conditions that are met.
The four conditions are, of course, supplemental testing; immunization tracking -- having a way that we can tell who got it when and where, and follow up on it; a very detailed operations and communication plan -- that is, some way that we're assured we're educating folks who are receiving this vaccine about what it is, what the effects are, and all of that kind of thing; and then, finally, an independent review by someone outside of the Department of Defense to assure that everything is in place for doing the best possible job that we can in offering that force protection. All four of these conditions have been met, and let me go through them one at a time.
The first is supplemental testing. This is above and beyond or, in some case, replicates what the FDA requires. So the vaccine is already FDA approved. But, in addition to that, we went back and looked at general safety, sterility, purity, and potency. All of these tests have been done on the lots of vaccine that will be in theater, or are in theater, and available to immunize the forces in the Gulf today. All have been done to FDA standards. All have been positive. That is, they have met the standard. So we are assured that we have the safest possible product, and one that is potent -- that is, that it does what it says, offers protection against anthrax.
The second issue is that of immunization tracking. Many of you will recall that a lesson from the Gulf War and, in fact, other kinds of deployments, is that we need to have something more than a paper record; because, although I actually found mine, I had to look for it. And this is the yellow immunization record that most service personnel carry. But what happens to these things is they get lost, and we have no way of going back and finding out who got what, where, and we rely on people's memories, and it's not a good way to do business.
So we wanted to be very sure that we have an automated tracking program in place, and I am pleased to tell you that we do. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all have systems that allow the input at the site, at the time. When a member of the service gets their immunization, it is entered into this tracking system and then is stored centrally in the DEERS database -- that's the Defense Enrollment Eligibility [Reporting] System that keeps all of the service records. And there are several data elements -- name, Social Security number, location, what vaccine was given, what lot number, and so forth.
This system is so sophisticated that if, for example, someone is at an Army health clinic in Kuwait, but happens to be a Marine temporarily detailed there, the Marine can get the first immunization, it will be entered, and then go on board a Navy ship and have that information downloaded from DEERS into the Navy system so that the Navy can say "It's time for another immunization, another shot," and we can both track it, but also use it as a tool to suspense when immunizations are needed.
So we think that -- and we'll still use this -- [paper shot record] are in place to ensure that these can be adequately tracked. And, in fact, we will begin doing this with all of our immunizations and with other aspects of medical care at some point in the near future.
The next condition was a detailed operations plan. That is in place, has been reviewed. CENTCOM has done a superb job in making sure that the plan of how to give these immunizations, and track, and educate folks is in place, and it's excellent.
Now, as far as the education; we've developed extensive briefings for all of the military personnel, as well as the commanders and the health care providers. I think, attached to the press release that you got, was the trifold information sheet on what the vaccine is, what the threat is, is it safe, and all of those kinds of things. In addition to that education, of course, the service personnel will have the briefings, and people will be available to answer any questions that they have.
The point is, we don't want to repeat the mistake of not telling individuals what it is that they're getting, not explaining why we're giving it, and not telling them about any potential risks. Of course, as far as the risks, the FDA has approved this vaccine since 1970. It's fully licensed. It's been used thousands and thousands of times in this country, and we're very confident about it.
The fourth part of the conditions the Secretary of Defense put into place was that this whole thing, what I've really just described, be reviewed by somebody outside of the Department of Defense. We were very fortunate to have Dr. Gerard Burrow, who is the special assistant to the president of Yale University, agree to do this external review.
We have -- and I believe they're on the table -- available for you a copy of his letter with a cover letter from Secretary Rudy de Leon, which asks very specific questions that Dr. Burrow was to answer. He has done so, and I would like to just read one of the sentences in summary. Again, you can pick up this whole report.
"The anthrax vaccine appears to be safe and offers the best available protection against wild type anthrax as a biological warfare agent."
So we feel that this review has been very thorough and has come to the conclusion that you'll see. That this is both a safe and effective vaccine, as well as a way that we can protect our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines against what is obviously a threat, or at least we perceive it to be so.
That concludes my remarks and, at this point, I'll ask for questions.
Q: GEN Blanck, I would like to ask, when will these inoculations begin, and will they be voluntary or must they take them? I believe the British Defense Minister said today that, on behalf of British troops, it would be voluntary on their part. And, will the United States help the Brits inoculate their folks?
A: Well, for the first part of the question, no, these vaccinations are mandatory. They are part of the immunization program that we have in place to protect our forces. This is a safe, again fully FDA licensed, approved vaccine. We have extensive experience with it, having used it for over 25 years. And so this is a vaccine they need to have to potentially save their lives. We have shared all of the information that we have with the British. I believe they have their own sources of vaccine.
Q: When will it begin, again?
A: I'm sorry. And you asked when the shots will begin. My understanding is that CENTCOM will begin this week.
Q: Yes, but why so late? Has there been a lack of vaccine? There certainly hasn't been a lack of threat. Why is it coming now?
A: Right. I will tell you what I understand about it. The Secretary was very, very concerned that we do [meet] all four of the conditions that he set. Despite the threat, he was willing to take that risk to make absolutely certain that we were providing the very best possible protection in the safest possible way to our forces.
Q: If the shots start this week, how long will it take before there is medically enough protection for the troops in the Gulf? Don't these shots have to be taken several times?
A: Yes. It is a six-course series of shots starting at time zero to eighteen months. However, as soon as it starts you begin developing the immunity, so you have some degree of it in a few days or a week or two. And actually, we feel fairly comfortable that at one month, that is four weeks, there is a substantial degree of protection. Though to get the best protection, you have to have the full series of shots.
Q: What about individuals who may only have a year left in service? Should they start the shot series?
A: The question is how about those who just have a year in the service. Well, for those who are deployed -- and those are the ones that we're talking about, those that are in harm's way right now -- there will be some degree of protection, as I mentioned, in four weeks and so they will undergo the series of shots. Of course, if they then transition to the reserves, it will continue in that organization.
Q: What if you don't?
A: If you don't transition to the reserves, then you don't have to take it anymore. Then you'll have the protection during the time that you get the shots and you won't take anymore.
Q: Was this vaccine used during the Gulf War at all?
A: This vaccine was given to approximately 130,000 of the 700,000 personnel in the Gulf, yes.
Q: In your little handout here, it says that this vaccine was not linked to Gulf War disease at all. Could you explain that?
A: Yes. The question is about this vaccine in Gulf War health issues. The illness that our veterans -- some of our veterans are experiencing.
We looked very thoroughly, very thoroughly, at this as a possible cause either by itself or in combination with something else as a possible etiology for Gulf War Syndrome. Neither we in the Department of Defense nor outside agencies such as the Institute of Medicine, the Presidential Advisory Committee, have found any evidence whatsoever that this is linked to those illnesses we term Gulf War Illnesses.
So there is an old saying in medicine: "Never say never, never say always." But the best evidence we have, and I am very convinced myself personally, that this was not one of the causes of those illnesses.
Q: Your ultimate objective is for those who are currently in the Gulf region, but when would the rest of the force expect to begin the series of shots?
A: It would depend on a variety of factors, but my anticipation is sometime this summer.
Q: Women who are pregnant aren't suppose to take them, so what will happen with those who are in the theater who may be pregnant? Will they be taken out of the theater because they can't be inoculated?
A: My understanding -- first of all, you are correct. Those who are pregnant will not get the vaccine. We don't believe that there would be a problem with it, but the FDA has not approved it because we haven't done studies in that group. We do have good information that there will be no health effects. If a woman gets it and later becomes pregnant, nor if after pregnancy she takes the vaccines and is still, for example, nursing or something like that. But because of the inability to receive the vaccinations in theater, I believe the CENTCOM policy is to return them, that is not to have them stay in the deployed status.
Q: Would you also explain the effectiveness of the antibiotics? Just how effective, if you know that the threat was -- that something has happened?
A: You know we have antibiotics, too, and let me spend a moment on that. The best protection, the best protection, is to be fully immunized because then you can have the exposure; the antibodies in your system will overcome the organism.
Next, is to begin the vaccination and to add antibiotics because antibiotics also offer a degree of protection. And if you are not fully immunized, actually, it's a good thing to give both.
The third level of protection would be by giving antibiotics alone because antibiotics, if -- and here is the qualifier, if they are taken after exposure but before symptoms occur, if you start them after symptoms occur, it's too late, so you have that narrow window of starting the antibiotics -- do offer protection that is reasonably good. Now what is reasonably good? It is not as good as the vaccine, but it is sure a heck of a lot better than nothing.
With the antibiotics, however, you have a problem. The problem is not only knowing when to start them, but also the problem is that because the organism germinates, or infects, if you will, at different periods of time in the lung, assuming it is inhaled -- you have to take them for almost 40 days, and you have to take them regularly for 40 days, and you can't stop. You can't miss a dose; you can't miss a day or any of that kind of thing. So the logistics of using antibiotics is substantial. Oh, by the way, antibiotics have far more side effects than does the vaccine.
Q: If I recall a briefing we had here a while ago about this kind of thing. Even the vaccine, though, isn't absolute protection if someone is hit with a large enough dose.
A: Sure. If, for example, the vaccine -- if someone was fully immunized but really got an overwhelming amount of exposure, really got hit with a whole pocket of this organism, then sure, it is potentially likely -- well, it is a potential that it would overcome the vaccinated state. But, boy, you would really have to get a whole lot. And while that's possible, it's unlikely. Most folks would be exposed, as it's weaponized, with relatively small numbers of the organism.
And, in fact, one of the things that I believe CENTCOM is looking at is, as they begin the series of vaccinations, if there were a confirmed instance where there might be exposure, where there would be exposure, of starting the antibiotics as well, recognizing that once you start it, you're sort of locked into that full, almost 40-day window.
I think you have a question. I'm sorry I've overlooked you.
Q: I'm wondering how much antibiotics you have in the Gulf and whether it would be sufficient in a worse case scenario?
A: We have stockpiled enough antibiotics to take care of everybody there -- U.S. forces.
Q: Could you just give us a very quick thumbnail of anthrax and how it kills and how deadly it is? Is it a bacteria?
A: Anthrax is a bacteria that normally occurs in the skin of animals -- sheep, cattle and so forth -- and so it is a particular hazard for those working in the animal husbandry industry, in slaughter houses and so forth.
What commonly occurs is that the organism gets on the skin and it causes a sore that's painful, devastating, and it can actually take hold and go through the system and create great problems. Occasionally, because these organisms can be aerosolized, as people are working with animals' hides, the organism will get in the air and can be inhaled. If it is inhaled and someone is nonprotected, then the mortality, once symptoms develop, is in excess of 95 percent.
Q: Is it also as fatal if contracted from animals?
A: Yes, that is the same anthrax, but if you get it on the skin, it's not as fatal unless it gets into the bloodstream. No, [on] skin [it is not fatal,] it is relatively easy to treat with antibiotics.
Q: How do you die?
A: Pneumonia. Pneumonia and overwhelming sepsis; so your lungs white out. You get all the buildup of the products of inflammation in the lungs, unable to take in oxygen, and you go into shock.
Q: So your lungs cannot purify and get oxygen to your system; is that right?
A: Correct. It is just like any -- it's like the common pneumonias that we know about except this stuff doesn't just get into one part of the lung; it gets throughout and then gets into the bloodstream as well.
Q: How long does it take to kill? A week or two or something?
A: Oh, no, probably not that long. It'll take somewhere between two and four days for symptoms to develop, maybe a little longer. And once symptoms develop, death would, in most cases, ensue in 48 to 72 hours. Perhaps, with aggressive treatment, you could extend it a little bit, but we're not talking much longer than that. This is an overwhelming infectious process.
Q: Is there any significant difference between the natural type of anthrax and something that is genetically engineered?
A: Okay. Natural anthrax, or the so-called wild anthrax, has several strains to it. Our vaccine protects, as near as we know, against all of these strains because the vaccine is against the part of the bacteria that doesn't change, that doesn't define one strain from the other.
If you genetically engineer the bacteria, then you have created another organism, you have created something that may have anthrax as a parent, but is no longer anthrax as I've been talking about it. While it is possible to do that, we have no evidence that it has been done, at least in the threat areas that we're concerned about. Though, obviously, you worry about that, and we don't know if the vaccine would be effective, because we don't know what that organism would be. That's the genetic engineering.
Q: Do I recall something about Russian work along those lines?
A: A defector from the then Soviet Union, now Russia, described their work on such an organism. We have no samples of it and no way to independently verify it but, again, this is possible to do. There is no question about it. We just don't know if the vaccine would work or not.
Q: Have you all had any indication -- and maybe there is no way to know -- whether the Iraqi's at any point have had the technological capability to do that?
A: It's hard to determine. I will tell you that to genetically engineer an organism such as this, again, while possible, is not as easy as it seems because once you alter it, all of a sudden it's not lethal anymore. It doesn't do what you want it to do. So there are all sorts of unanticipated consequences. It's a complicated business. It takes lots of work to really develop something such as we're describing. But, again, I don't discount it. It is more than theoretically possible.
Q: Ultimately, how many people will you be vaccinating? Do you have civilians that work for DoD as well in mind?
A: We do have civilians, contractors, DoD civilians that would have the vaccine available.
Q: So how many people in all?
A: Over in the Gulf -- I can't give you that number. I don't know it.
Q: Is there a cost to the program? And at what point will you expect to have the entire force, US military, inoculated?
A: There is a substantial cost to the program and I can't give you the figures, but we buy this product from the Michigan Biological Products Institute. We anticipate to begin the whole force, as I mentioned, this summer. It will take us some period of time, obviously, to immunize the entire force, first active and then to include the select reserve.
Q: Are there vaccines for other biological agents like that Iraq is now known to develop like botulinum?
A: There is a botulinum vaccine. It is not IND approved. And there is work on other vaccines against potential threat agents.
Mr. Bacon: General Blanck has to go off to the field [Hill]. We've got time for one more question, if there is one.
Q: Last week there was discussion about the low altitude flight in Japan, in Japanese Diet, and because the US military forces do not disclose flying routes in Japan -- I guess, only in Japan -- there was discussion why the US military forces do not disclose only in Japan? Do you confirm this and, if so, why?
A: I had not heard that before, and so I'm afraid I can't confirm it and, therefore, I can't really give you a good answer to the question as to disclosure.
Q: Whom do I ask this question?
A: Mr. Bacon will be happy to take that one on. Thank you very much.
Mr. Bacon: Okay, let me start with a brief announcement.
On Thursday, March 5th Secretary Cohen will host the Pentagon observance of National Women's History Month at 2:00 p.m. And the wife of the Vice President will be here, Tipper Gore, to be the keynote speaker. And there will also be several other people partaking in the ceremony, including 12-year-old Erica Martinez, from the John Tyler Elementary School, which is a public school that's sponsored by the Department of Defense. She will read her winning essay on "Living the Legacy of Women's Rights", and will be recognized for this essay.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Ken, when does the Gulf/Bosnia supplemental go up? Will it go up this week?
A: I think it will go up this week, possibly this afternoon or tomorrow.
Q: How much is it going to be?
A: Well, why don't we wait until we send it up and that will become clear. Secretary and General Shelton are scheduled to testify on the supplemental before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday.
Q: Ken, if there's been a diplomatic solution to the problems concerning Iraq, what does the future hold for the some 36,000 troops and all the equipment that was deployed in that region?
A: Well, that's a decision the President will make. And he's made it very clear that we will watch closely how well Iraq complies with the UN agreement and we will keep our troops there until we find out whether they are going to comply fully or not. We'll be playing this, watching this very closely over the next weeks and months, and the President will decide if the troops should be drawn down and when the force will be drawn down.
Q: Just to follow up on the anthrax story. What does the United States currently believe that Iraq possesses in the way of anthrax, and has it succeeded in putting any of this anthrax in weapons? How real is the threat that US troops could possibly be attacked with anthrax?
A: Well, first of all, we believe that, based on information from UNSCOM, that Iraq has at least 2,100 gallons of anthrax. UNSCOM suspects that the amount could be much more, perhaps three times that amount, which would be around 6,000 gallons of anthrax.
We do know that Iraq has weaponized biological weapons, including anthrax. It declared to UNSCOM that it has put biological weapons into warheads that can be mounted on SCUD missiles and it told UNSCOM that it had weaponized biological weapons on 25 warheads.
UNSCOM has been unable to confirm the destruction of any of those warheads. So, we have to operate on the assumption that Iraq could have 25 SCUD-type warheads, that is, warheads that can be fired on missiles, containing biological agents. A number of those warhead contain anthrax, we believe.
Having said all that, in 1990 and 1991, just before the Gulf War, President Bush made it very clear to Iraq that if it were to use biological or chemical weapons against our forces that we would respond very decisively and with devastating force. A number of officials in the Clinton Administration have repeated that warning.
We expect that Saddam Hussein has taken that warning very seriously and would not do anything as stupid as using chemical or biological weapons against our forces. Nevertheless, he does have them, he has used chemical weapons against his own people, and he's used them against Iran in the past. Maybe some of you have seen some of the recent television reports showing some of the gruesome results of the use of chemical weapons on Kurds in Iraq.
And we do know that Iraq is not alone in developing biological weapons, including weapons with anthrax. One of the points that's very important to remember here is that this is -- while we are beginning the vaccination of our 36,000 troops in the Gulf, and also those that will be going to the Gulf to relieve troops already there or sailors already there, we are ultimately going to vaccinate everybody in the active duty and reserve forces, about 2.1 million people.
And the reason for this is that we think that the threat of the use of anthrax or other biological weapons will spread in the future, or could spread, and that forces outside of the Gulf could ultimately be the target of such weapons. We hope that's not the case. Any country that were to use those weapons against us, as I said, would face a devastating response. But we think this is a very prudent measure to take against a future threat.
Q: What is a good round number for this initial round? You said 36,000?
A: The 36,000 people there, and as others go in they'll be vaccinated. So as carriers go in to replace carriers already there, the crews on there will be vaccinated. I can't give you a precise number. The bottom number is 36,000. Probably it will end up being closer to -- that will increase by a number of thousands but I can't give you a precise...
Q: As a follow up to that, you've now indicated the danger that exists. Can you tell us about any special pay the troops in the Gulf region may be getting?
A: Well, troops in the Gulf receive imminent danger pay, and that is $150 a month on top of their other pay. That's for both officers and enlisted men. They've been receiving this pay for some time. It predates the current crisis. And the pay goes to people who are deployed at sea, people who are deployed in Saudi Arabia, and people deployed in Kuwait.
Q: You indicated in December that the troops in the Gulf and the ones in Korea would probably be inoculated first. Is that the way it's going to progress? Will the troops in Korea be inoculated after the troops in the Gulf or even as the troops in the Gulf are being inoculated?
A: I'm not sure that decision has been made yet. We are actually starting with the hardest part of this problem because the easiest way to begin would be to start vaccinating people as soon as they enter the military, and that way you could give them all their shots at once; as they're getting the other shots they get when they come into the military, and it's very easy to keep the records or to start the record keeping.
What is hardest is to start vaccinating people who are already deployed and, therefore, are moving in and out of the area. That's what we're doing because General Zinni, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Central Command, requested that.
I don't know whether we'll go next to Korea or we'll go back and start vaccinating people in their home bases first. That will be decided over the next couple of weeks.
Q: Ken, two questions. What will happen to those pilots, for example, who rotate out after 45 days? Will they continue to receive the shots back home?
A: My assumption is that they will, because many people have had more than one rotation, more than two or three rotations in and out of the Gulf. So this is one of the reasons why we want to vaccinate the entire force over time, because this way we won't have to check somebody's shot records before he or she is deployed.
Q: And did General Zinni give you any indication of why he wanted to do this now as opposed to next month or in the summer when it was originally --
A: He asked to do it as soon as possible. And as General Blanck said, Secretary Cohen was absolutely determined that the four checks were made on the program to make sure that we could do this safely and quickly. And he showed his own commitment to the program and to safety of the vaccine by getting vaccinated himself, yesterday -- he and General Shelton.
Q: Evidently, there's a picture of General Shelton and the Secretary getting their shots. Is there a way to get it?
A: I've seen no publicly available picture of anybody getting shots.
Q: Why wouldn't it be publicly available?
A: Well, they were -- they were vaccinated for health reasons, not for publicity reasons. And they --
Q: Why was their picture taken then?
A: I suppose that they wanted one for the record. And that's where it will remain.
Q: Do you have an estimate of what the cost of this program will be?
A: I don't. We'll try to get that. But it's not -- I think we can get the cost of vaccinating somebody this -- the whole six shots. We can get that for you, maybe even by the end of the briefing. We have that information. I just don't have it at my fingertips. Yes.
Q: When did General Zinni make that request for the inoculations?
A: I think he made it -- I don't know the exact date. But it was sometime back in February, I believe, that he made the request.
Q: New subject?
Q: The Washington Times today is reporting that apparently some information about Pentagon war plans was passed to Iraqi intelligence by somebody in the United States. Is this something that the Pentagon is concerned about?
A: Well, first, I'm going to have to refer you to the FBI for any substantive comment on counterintelligence activities because they're the people who conduct those programs.
Second, obviously, if information were passed from the Pentagon or from somebody who had access to Pentagon information to a foreign country, particularly an enemy country, we would be concerned. And the FBI certainly would be concerned.
Third, if Iraq is paying money -- and this is an "if" because I'm not confirming anything about the story, but the story cited the type of information that was apparently being provided -- if Iraq is paying good money for such information, this is the type of... it doesn't seem like a good investment to me. It's money that was -- it was information that was published on the front page of every newspaper in the country starting in February and it was also information that turned out to be wrong.
Q: To Bosnia?
Q: Or to the Balkans, I should say. The spokesman for SFOR has said that SFOR will not get involved in Kosovo and the rioting and the Albanian ethnic insurgency there. But is the United States concerned that the other countries in the region that have shown great concern about that rioting -- that instability there -- is the United States concerned that there could be an inflammation from Kosovo that would spread to Bosnia, number one? And, number two, is NATO looking at a possible -- the possibility of some -- standing by there in some sort of intervention capacity?
A: Well, we're very concerned about the violence in Kosovo, and we've made it very clear to all parties that it's their responsibility to stop this violence. It has calmed down some already, although it still remains tense.
We think that this problem is best solved by the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs. And we think there ought to be a dialogue to resolve the problem and there ought to be restraint on both sides.
Q: David Kay is among those who said that, as a former inspector in Iraq, he is very doubtful that by this late date there is anything more that could be divined and discovered. What is the Pentagon's thought on the importance of inspections given such testimony, that, hey, they've had enough time to hide everything so there's really nothing much we have hope of finding?
A: We think inspections are very important. We think the inspections so far have been successful in destroying large amounts of chemical and some biological weapons and also some delivery systems. Thirty-eight thousand chemical munitions have been destroyed as a result of the UNSCOM inspectors, for instance.
The goal of the latest agreement between Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN, and Iraq is to give unfettered access to UNSCOM inspectors. And we think that with that type of access, which would actually be an expansion of the type of access they've had recently, that there is a good chance that they will be able to uncover and destroy more chemical and biological weapons.
Remember, this is a very complex operation -- the inspection routine. A lot of the people who are inspectors are sort of green-eyeshade people. They go into laboratories and they look at records. They go into computers and take out the hard disks and look at the information on the hard disks. They're tracking down information on what Iraq has purchased over a period of time, the type of growth media that can be used to produce biological weapons, for instance, the type of precursors that are necessary to produce chemical weapons.
And if they're granted more access to the types of facilities where this information is stored, they'll be better able to trace down what is there and possibly where it is as well. So we're hopeful that we will learn more and that UNSCOM will destroy more as a result of more inspections.
A message here on the cost of anthrax vaccination. The current cost of a single dose at the manufacturer level is approximately $3.50. A troop equivalent dose, consisting of a full -- of all six doses costs approximately $21. When you add all the associated costs -- transportation, storage, administration, et cetera -- in the cost of immunizing the entire active and reserve force of 2.4 million -- up already from the 2.1 million I used earlier -- over a six-year period, the cost will be approximately $130 million.
So I guess the best figure to use is the cost of vaccinating everybody in the active duty and reserve force now is $130 million. Of course, that force changes every year as people leave and come in so there will be continuing costs.
Q: Are you assuming that's a not-for-profit sale by the manufacturers?
A: Well, actually, no, the manufacturer is owned by the State of Michigan.
Q: So it's a nonprofit?
A: Yes, it's a nonprofit operation.
Q: For the Iraq questions. It seems to me last year around the time of the Haj there were violations of the Iraqi no-fly zones for pilgrims traveling. Do you anticipate that Saddam Hussein will again attempt to violate the no-fly zone this month, and do you have any plans to deal with that?
A: I don't think I'm going to be in the business of predicting violations of the no-fly zone by Saddam Hussein. We hope and expect that he'll honor the terms of the no-fly zone. And there are many ways for pilgrims to reach Mecca, and we assume that they'll be able to do that legally without violating the no-fly zone.
Q: With regard to the -- excuse me -- just-passed UN resolution, does the Pentagon see that resolution as a green light for any military strikes should Iraq violate any conditions to that agreement?
A: We believe that the UN Security Council resolution allows us to do anything we need to do to enforce UN Security Council resolutions. We've felt that before this resolution and we feel it after the resolution.
Q: Just one more item on The Washington Times story. You said that that would have been a bad investment because the information was publicly available and part of it, I guess you said, was wrong. Which part of the publicly available information was wrong? Just to be curious.
A: First of all, I said I have no idea whether an investment was made in a spy or not and I'm not confirming that any investment was made in a spy in that part of the story. But according to the report in the newspaper, the information said that an attack was imminent, and that information was given in early February. I don't know what your definition of "imminent" is, but I guess my definition of "imminent" isn't months away.
Q: Ken, we have all the extra aircraft in the Gulf and in Kuwait and Bahrain. Are those countries contributing the aviation fuel, or are we buying it from them, and are they charging us usage fees for their facilities?
A: We do get support for fuel and other operational costs from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, I don't believe from other countries in the Gulf. And I don't [know] about the landing rights and the usage fees. I'll get the answer to that question. I just don't know.
Q: Are there plans to name a new Air Force Secretary nominee, given that General Jones is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission?
A: There are no plans. There have been a number -- I do not know the status or the length of any investigation involving Darryl Jones by the SEC. That's something they would have to comment on. There have been newspaper reports about that, but he remains the nominee to be Secretary of the Air Force.
Q: Is there concern that this process is being delayed by the ongoing investigation?
A: Well, there is a concern that there does seem to be some sort of a campaign against his candidacy by some people who have made charges against him. I think he has had an explanation for all of these charges that have been raised against him. The FBI has looked into them at the request of some members of Congress, and I think so far, these charges have proven to be baseless, and he remains the candidate.
Q: A veterans group yesterday said that hundreds of thousands of troops during the Gulf War may have been exposed to dust from depleted uranium rounds. Is that something the Pentagon has looked into, and how does it rate as a hazard?
A: Well, first, I'm glad you asked that question, because I was sort of astonished by that number of 400,000 troops, which was a big percentage of all the troops we sent to the Gulf during the Gulf War. My understanding is that the report was fairly tentative about that number, and I think I may actually have a copy of that page here.
What it said was it is possible that at least 400,000 troops came in contact. We think that there is no basis for that figure and that it dramatically overstates the number of U.S. forces that may have come into contact with the type of depleted uranium in the form that they described here.
Q: Can you give an actual figure of your own estimate?
A: I cannot, but they were talking about tanks that had been fired on and were burning, tanks that had been hit by depleted uranium rounds, and those tanks were principally in Iraq and Kuwait. We don't have any evidence that anywhere near 400,000 American troops got into Iraq and Kuwait.
Depleted uranium is used in two ways: it's used as armor on tanks, and it's also used in the rounds that are fired against tanks, both by our M-1 tanks and also by the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft. And it has been a huge advance in force protection for two ways. One, the armor using depleted uranium rounds is good armor, and no American tank in the Gulf War using depleted uranium armor that was hit by Iraq was killed by the shot. They were able to survive the shots in part because of the depleted uranium armor.
Secondly, the shots that were fired by our A-10's and by our tanks using depleted uranium were very deadly and helped destroy enemy tanks, so it is an increase in lethality for tankers, which, of course, is very important.
We have no evidence that there is any connection between the illnesses that have been reported after the Gulf War and exposure to depleted uranium. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Gulf War Illnesses found that there was not a connection -- could not find any connection between depleted uranium and Gulf War illnesses, and several other studies have made the same finding. The Presidential Advisory Commission said it is unlikely that health effects reported by Gulf War veterans today are the result of exposure to DU during the Gulf War.
There were several, about three dozen American soldiers who were injured by shrapnel from depleted uranium as a result of friendly fire during the Gulf War, and some of them actually have fragments still in their bodies. And we have monitored the health of these people very, very closely and have not found any connection between their exposure to depleted uranium in that way and Gulf War illnesses.
So we think that this is something that has increased force protection and force lethality, on the one hand, and has not led to deleterious health effects, on the other hand.
Q: Setting aside a moment the question of potential exposure to depleted uranium dust. Can you give us any sort of round number of how many U.S. troops were on battlefields in Kuwait and Iraq? What would the maximum number be?
A: I don't have the numbers here with me, but we'll try to get that.
Q: Less than 400,000?
A: We think it was significantly less than that who made it into Iraq where Iraqi tanks were burning.
Q: Can I get that number, some estimate?
A: We'll do our best to get the number.
Q: What about just generally as a hazard of contaminating a battlefield, you know, that these kinds of rounds pose?
A: Well, I should be clear about this. Depleted uranium does emit a very low amount of radiation. It's a heavy metal, and like other heavy metals, lead, mercury, there is a certain amount of danger associated with it from very long-term or careless exposure.
The military has been working hard to educate people about the proper use of depleted uranium. And in fact, you can get a copy of this, but in early January the Deputy Secretary of Defense, John Hamre, sent a letter out to all the services asking them to review their training manuals and equipment for dealing with depleted uranium. That letter stressed at the very beginning that, based on our review of Gulf War illness, we found no connection between exposure to depleted uranium and Gulf War illnesses.
I have actually seen an Army training film that deals with depleted uranium, and it's used for educating tankers and others about how they should deal with it, and it's (inaudible) a complete film. And the bottom line of the film is like so many things we deal with in our everyday lives if used improperly, over a long period of time, it's conceivable that they could raise health effects, but if dealt with properly and carefully, there should be no deleterious health effects.
Q: Was there a failure, though, after the Gulf War to adequately caution troops, for instance, about climbing on Iraqi tanks, have pictures taken, and that sort of activity that could have needlessly exposed them to something?
A: Well, I think the short answer to that is yes. Dr. Bernard Rostker, who is the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, said in his annual report which was issued in January, that there had been problems in communicating some of the potential health effects of depleted uranium to the troops, and that's one of the reasons why Deputy Secretary Hamre issued this letter to the services and to the chiefs earlier this year.
Q: Thank you.
A: You're welcome.