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New Adenovirus Vaccine A 'Top Priority,' Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2004 – The Defense Department is working to field a new vaccine designed to combat a virus that's plagued military boot camps since World War II, DoD's senior medical official reported Oct. 5.

The development of a new adenovirus vaccine is a "top priority," Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr. said during a Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service interview. The vaccine, he noted, is slated to become available for troop use in 2006, presuming current development efforts remain on schedule and Food and Drug Administration hurdles are cleared.

Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, explained that people exposed to adenovirus - which is often found in a crowded, stressful environment, such as basic training camps -- may experience fever and other flu-like symptoms. The virus, he said, usually takes three to five days to run its course and most people fully recover without ill effects.

However, some people with weakened immune systems or other existing health issues, he pointed out, have developed a more serious illness, and a handful have died after contracting the virus (six deaths in the past five years among about 960,000 recruits).

He noted DoD is spending $50 million to obtain the new vaccine. It's now being tested for safety, he said, in accordance with FDA requirements.

"It's our plan," Winkenwerder explained, "that sometime next year we'll be starting into what are called the Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials to look at the effectiveness of the vaccine. We have every reason to believe it's going to be safe and effective because it's very similar to the old vaccine."

A post-World War II government report released in 1947 first confirmed adenoviruses were the cause of a large number of respiratory and other illnesses experienced by wartime military recruits.

Documents say 10 to 12 percent of all military recruits have come down with adenovirus-related illnesses since 1999, when the military ran out of an old vaccine that had been given recruits since 1971. That percentage range is similar to that experienced at boot camps during pre-vaccine days.

The old vaccine, Winkenwerder explained, had been dropped by the military during the 1990s. That action, he said, "was an error" and resulted partly from a study that indicated the military no longer needed the vaccine, which had been dispensed to recruits in two-pill doses.

In fiscal 1999, DoD recognized that the adenovirus vaccine was needed after all and provided funding to re-establish production for the next fiscal year. However, under previous scheduling the new vaccine wasn't slated to become available until 2009.

Winkenwerder said he directed the accelerated development of the new vaccine after learning of the resurgence of the virus at military boot camps.

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Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr.

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