William Winkenwerder, Jr., MD, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, today announced that the anthrax and smallpox vaccination programs would include selected units within the U. S. Pacific Command, additional personnel now serving with the U.S. Central Command and selected other groups of individuals.
The decision to protect additional personnel with these vaccines reflects our concern for their health and safety as well as the continuity of essential operations, said Winkenwerder. When we began these vaccination programs we stated that we would periodically review them, evaluating the threats to our forces and vaccine availability. We recently completed such an evaluation and determined that the threat continues. In light of our successful implementation of these programs and the increased quantities of vaccine, we will include additional forces in the vaccination programs, he offered.
Vaccination offers an extra layer of protection, in addition to antibiotics and other measures, that is needed for members of the armed forces, emergency-essential DoD civilians and contractor personnel carrying out mission-essential services.
The program update will continue to include personnel assigned or deployed to the selected units for 15 or more consecutive days. DoD will offer the vaccinations to family members in these geographic areas on a voluntary basis. We will pursue vaccination, subject to appropriate Personnel and Contractor procedures, of emergency essential civilian employees and comparable contractor personnel in these geographic areas.
DoD continues to reserve a portion of the vaccine supply for contingency use by other federal agencies. The Office of Homeland Security heads the planning effort among federal agencies for use of the vaccine.
Anthrax remains one of the top biological warfare threats to U.S. troops. Vaccination is the safest and most reliable way to protect U. S. Forces from a potential threat that is highly lethal, even with early treatment. Since June 2002, DoD has vaccinated more than 750,000
service members with more than 2.2 million doses of anthrax vaccine. Refusals among service members leading to separations from the service have been extremely rare since 2002, only four per 100,000 persons vaccinated.
Because of its contagiousness, smallpox is also considered a top biological warfare threat. It can cause a severe rash covering the whole body that can leave permanent scars, high fever, severe headaches or backaches. Smallpox infection kills about three out of ten people infected. This disease, as a bioweapon, can generate significant consequences and critically interrupt military operations. Since December 2002, DoD has vaccinated more than 625,000 service members.
The Department continues to work aggressively with the Department of Health and Human Services, using a new federal coordinating committee and the Bioshield Legislation to prioritize and develop new and better vaccines and other medical countermeasures for biological threats to civilians and the military.
More information about the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program is at http://www.anthrax.mil/; and about the Smallpox Vaccination Program at http://www.smallpox.mil .