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Total-Force Anthrax Shots Start

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 1998 – Anthrax vaccinations start this week for service members deploying to Southwest Asia and Korea, and shots for those already in Korea will begin in early September, DoD officials announced Aug. 14.

DoD's announcement marks the beginning of a three-phase vaccination program for all 2.4 million active duty and reserve component service members. About 48,000 service members already in Southwest Asia have been receiving shots through an accelerated immunization program.

Rear Adm. Michael Cowan called anthrax "the poor man's atomic bomb" and said the vaccination takes that weapon out of an aggressor's arsenal. Cowan is deputy director for medical readiness at the Joint Staff.

Anthrax is a livestock disease the Iraqis are known to have refined into a biological agent. Exposure is nearly always fatal to the unprotected.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen ordered a total-force anthrax vaccination program in December 1997. In March, he ordered U.S. personnel in Southwest Asia to receive shots following a U.N. confrontation with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein over weapons inspections, the ejection of U.S. inspectors and threats to U.S. and allied personnel in the area.

Phase 1 of the vaccination program calls for an estimated 200,000 service members going to high-threat areas, such as Southwest Asia and Korea, to receive vaccinations over the next two fiscal years.

Phase 2, starting in fiscal 2000, is for personnel in early deploying units to high-threat areas, officials said. About 300,000 personnel per year will receive the vaccine through fiscal 2003.

Phase 3 begins in fiscal 2003 and covers the remainder of the force and recruits.

Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the anthrax vaccine, in use since 1971, is safe, licensed by the Food and Drug Administration and effective against all known anthrax strains. For total immunity, service members must receive six shots over an 18-month period followed by an annual booster shot. However, tests show service members will receive a degree of protection after only two inoculations.

Bailey said seven adverse reactions which may be directly related to the vaccine have been reported out of the 133,870 shots administered so far. Six cases were minor. The seventh involves a service member who contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome shortly after receiving his third anthrax inoculation. According to the National Institutes of Health, Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare inflammatory disorder that affects the nervous system. It is occasionally triggered by such unrelated events as pregnancy, surgery, and vaccinations. The service member was doing well one month after the onset of his illness, officials said.

The anthrax vaccination is mandatory -- all 16 service members who have refused shots to date have received nonjudicial punishment. "We consider service members getting the shot in the same way we tell them to wear their helmets," Cowan said.

"[Anthrax] is a lethal weapon we need to protect [service members] against, and we have the means to do so," Bailey said.

Cowan and Bailey said DoD is looking at vaccinations against other possible biological agents. Bailey said DoD knows of 10 nations doing chemical/biological weapon research. "Our overarching policy is, if we recognize a threat, and a safe vaccine exists to combat it, then we should use it," Cowan said.

For more information about anthrax and DoD's vaccination program, visit the DoD Web site at www.defenselink.mil/other_info/protection.html.

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