Reserve Leadership Gets Anthrax Vaccinations
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 1999 The Reserve component chiefs led by example Jan. 25 by receiving the first in a six-shot series of anthrax vaccinations here during a ceremony at the Reserve Officers Association midwinter conference.
Charles Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, and 12 other reserve component leaders set the example for 900,000 reserve component members who will receive the shots by 2003.
"Since childhood we are accustomed to receiving vaccinations," Cragin said. "From smallpox to polio, we vaccinate to protect against diseases." The vaccination can protect service members against anthrax, a livestock disease that kills 99 out of 100 unprotected people. "[Anthrax] is the No. 1 weapon of choice in biological warfare. It is effective and easy to weaponize. If inhaled, it is almost always deadly."
Cragin said giving service members anthrax vaccinations is a prudent form of force protection. Some reserve component service members have already started receiving the shots. Reservists deploying or already deployed to Southwest Asia or Korea, high-risk areas for biological warfare, have started receiving the vaccinations.
He assured the audience of the safety of the vaccine, noting no long-term side effects have surfaced since the Food and Drug Administration approved it 29 years ago.
DoD has inoculated about 170,000 personnel with more than 475,000 separate shots. Dr. [Lt. Gen.] Ron Blanck, Army surgeon general, said side effects have been minimal. "In about 5 percent of those vaccinated, there has been a little redness and soreness where the shot was given," he said. "It's a killed bacteria serum. So problems that you would associate with a live serum are not possible."
Blanck, who has had the shots, said the program has gone remarkably smoothly with no reports of major problems associated with the serum. One case of Guillain-Barre syndrome was reported, but the service member made a complete recovery and medical officials do not know if the vaccination caused the illness.
Cragin said he had "utmost confidence" in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Blanck said he spends an "awful lot of time" assuring service members and their families that the vaccinations are safe. The FDA approved the vaccine, he said, and the Army ran supplemental tests on it. Also, DoD developed a tracking system that shows who received shots, where, and what batch of vaccine was used to inoculate them. Finally, the whole process inspection by an outside expert.
Service members who refuse the shots are disobeying a direct order, said Cragin, and they are putting their colleagues in jeopardy. "If they deploy and they are in an area where this weapon is used, now their colleagues have to worry about them," he said.
Inhaled anthrax causes pneumonia-like symptoms one to six days after exposure. Victims eventually drown, in essence, when their lungs fill with fluids.
The six-shot series provides full protection from the disease. Getting a partial series provides only partial protection; however, even after three shots service members obtain 80 percent to 85 percent immunity, Blanck said.
For active duty and deploying reservists the protocol works like this: The first three shots are given in two-week intervals. The following three shots are administered at 6, 12, and 18 months. The program also includes an annual booster
The following reserve leaders received their shots during the ceremony. Charles L. Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs; Mark Davidson, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs; Bryan E. Sharratt, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for reserve affairs; Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Plewes, chief, Army Reserve; Maj. Gen. Roger C. Schultz, director, Army National Guard; and Maj. Gen. James E. Sherrard III, chief, Air Force Reserve.
Others receiving the shots were: Brig. Gen. James Helmly, deputy chief, Army Reserve; Brig. Gen. Michael J. Squier, deputy director, Army National Guard; Rear Adm. John B. Totushek, director, Naval Reserve; Rear Adm. John F. Brunelli, commander, Naval Surface Reserve Force; Rear Adm. Thomas J. Barrett, director for Reserve and Training, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters; Col. Howard Schick, deputy director for Reserve Affairs, U.S. Marine Corps; and Capt. James Willis, deputy director for Reserve and Training, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.
Other officers participated in the ceremony but had already started the inoculation process. They were: Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis, chief, National Guard Bureau; Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert A. Mcintosh, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Brig. Gen. Craig B. McKinley, deputy director, Air National Guard.
Cragin said service members can find out more about the vaccination program visiting the anthrax web site at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/Anthrax/.