Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen has directed the military to proceed with the previously publicized plan to vaccinate all active duty personnel and Selected Reserves with the FDA-licensed Anthrax vaccine.
Total Force vaccinations for about 2.4 million military Service members are expected to begin this summer.
Cohen explained that, "I have approved implementation of the Anthrax Vaccination Program for the total force.
This is an efficient, effective and safe way to protect our forces against an emerging threat.
"On December 15, 1997, I made implementation of the program contingent on the successful completion of four conditions: supplemental testing of the vaccine; assured tracking of immunizations; approved operational and communications plans; and review of the health and medical aspects of the program by an independent expert," Cohen said.
"All conditions for implementing the anthrax vaccination program for the total force have now been met.
Vaccinations of the active components and Selected Reserve shall proceed consistent with all specifications of the Food and Drug Administration approved product labeling."
Today, during his commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy, President Clinton emphasized the importance of this initiative.
Clinton said, "Because our troops serve on the frontline of freedom we must take special care to protect them.
So we have been working on vaccinating them against biological threats and now we will inoculate all our armed forces, active duty and reserves against deadly anthrax bacteria."
The Secretary of the Army will be the Executive Agent for the Department's Anthrax Vaccination Program. The Army, on behalf of the Executive Agent, will manage and administer the overall program and monitor the Services' progress of their respective implementation plans.
After a three-year review, Cohen concluded that the vaccination is the safest way to protect highly mobile U.S. military forces against a potential threat that is 99 percent lethal to unprotected individuals.
"This is a force protection issue that was recommended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Cohen said. "To be effective, force health protection must be comprehensive, well-documented and consistent.
I have instructed the military to put such a program in place." Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both started taking the anthrax vaccinations.
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 primary series are given; the entire six-shot series is required for full protection, as determined by the FDA.
The total force anthrax vaccination plans were first announced in December 1997.
In March 1998, the vaccination program was accelerated for troops assigned or deploying to Southwest Asia after all four conditions for implementation had been successfully met in theater.
The estimated cost to vaccinate the total force over a six to seven-year period is approximately $130 million. This includes associated costs for transportation, storage, and administration of the program.
The phased vaccination program will take six to seven years to complete.
Next in priority after those in Southwest Asia and Northeast Asia are early deploying forces.
The remainder of the force, including the reserves and National Guard, and new recruits will follow.
Annual booster vaccinations for all Service members will become a routine part of force health protection.
More information about the Defense Department's anthrax vaccination program is available
on the World Wide Web at: http://www.defenselink.mil/other_info/protection.html