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Release No: 752-00
December 19, 2000


The Department of Defense released today an information paper detailing vaccine administration during the Gulf War. Since the return of approximately 697,000 Gulf War veterans, a number of veterans have expressed concern that their health may have been adversely affected by vaccines. The information paper, the 10th published by the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, provides information for veterans and other concerned individuals about vaccines, their use by the military, and issues arising from the administration of biological warfare vaccines in the Gulf War. This paper complements a recent report from the Institute of Medicine that evaluates the published scientific research on the health effects of specific vaccines used during the Gulf War.

During the Gulf War, vaccines - including two non-traditional vaccines, anthrax and botulinum toxoid - were identified for administration in response to the infectious disease and biological warfare agent threat. The decisions to select and use these specific vaccines were based on assessments of the infectious diseases and biological warfare agents that servicemembers were likely to encounter during the deployment. The low number of reported casualties from infectious diseases is due in part to the vaccines given to servicemembers before and during the deployment.

The report notes that administration of the biological warfare agent vaccines was characterized by several difficult issues, including a shortage of available quantities of vaccines to protect all servicemembers at risk, prioritizing military units for vaccination based on the available vaccines and anticipated threat, and ensuring servicemembers had the information needed about the vaccines. Operational security concerns prevented many servicemembers from receiving important information about the vaccines, why they were being administered and possible side effects. Confusion about whether the vaccines were mandatory or voluntary and the uncertain guidance as to how and where vaccinations would be documented further contributed to servicemembers' concerns about taking these vaccines. Today, this lack of documentation complicates research on possible connections between vaccines and the unexplained illnesses of some Gulf War veterans.

Military personnel increasingly face routine deployments overseas and confront exposures to environmentally hazardous battlefields and risks associated with biological warfare agents, the report says. Vaccines are an integral part of DoD's new strategy of force health protection. The Gulf War experience has brought to light some shortfalls in vaccine administration and generated improvements in force health protection.

The report's observations have been forwarded to the special assistant's Lessons Learned Implementation Directorate for coordination with applicable offices within the military departments to help ensure that identified issues are appropriately addressed.

Information papers are reports of what the Defense Department knows today about military procedures and equipment used during the Gulf War. This release is intended to provide a basic understanding of vaccine administration. Although not an investigative report, the report will be updated if additional information becomes available. Gulf War veterans who have records, photographs, and recollections or find errors in the details of the report are asked to contact the office at (800) 497-6261.

This report is posted on DoD's website GulfLINK at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/va . Other publications of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses are also listed at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/ .

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