Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen announced today his decision to vaccinate U.S. military personnel deployed to the Arabian Gulf region against the biological warfare agent anthrax.
This action was requested by Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander in chief, U.S. Central Command, and recommended by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as one of a number of force protection measures for troops in the Gulf region. The vaccinations are expected to begin this month.
When the military-wide anthrax immunization plan was first announced last December, Cohen specified that four conditions be met before vaccinations would begin.
Work on each of these items for use by the U.S. Central Command is complete.
The conditions are:
- Supplemental testing, consistent with Food and Drug Administration standards, to assure sterility, safety, potency and purity of the vaccine.
- Implementation of a system to fully track personnel who receive the anthrax vaccinations.
- Approval of appropriate operational plans to administer the immunizations and communications plans to inform military personnel of the overall program.
- Review of health and medical issues of the program by an independent expert.
Immunization for our troops is a prudent action.
The immunization program will consist of a series of six inoculations per Service member 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 FDA.
"After a careful review, I have concluded that vaccination against anthrax is a safe, prudent force protection measure," Cohen said.
He and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both started the anthrax vaccination program with their first shots.
As an additional force protection measure, anthrax exposure can be treated with antibiotics before symptoms occur.
Antibiotics are in place with forces in the region in sufficient quantities.
Force health protection measures include education, health risk assessment, and joint medical surveillance.
Nuclear, chemical and biological (NBC) defense is achieved through the detection equipment, protective apparel, and post-exposure medical treatment procedures already in place in the Gulf.
The United States has deployed to the Gulf the Biological Integrated Detection System (BIDS); the Air Base/Port Biological Detection ("Portal Shield"); and The Interim Biological Agent Detector (IBAD).
Additionally, every Service member deploys with a full ensemble of NBC protective equipment.
United States forces in the Gulf operate with forces from a number of other countries.
While it is the responsibility of each of these countries to determine how they will protect their forces against chemical and biological threats, we will be working with allies and coalition nations as they seek to meet their medical needs.
The United Kingdom is also announcing its own vaccination programs today.
Canada has already announced its intention to vaccinate its forces in the Gulf Region.
Anthrax Brochure - available for download local distribution. It includes an overview of the vaccination program, an outline of the threat and basic questions and answers. (Download formats - MS Word 6.0 or .pdf.)