WASHINGTON, Feb 17, 2000 -- DoD officials are in the process of approving a policy that standardizes exemptions to the anthrax vaccination program. But, they said, they provided exemptions because it’s “good medicine,” not because of any concerns about the vaccine’s safety or efficacy.
The new exemptions fall into two categories, administrative and medical, said Marine Maj. Gen. Randy L. West, special adviser to the secretary of defense for anthrax and bio- defense affairs.
The administrative exemption refers mainly to service members who are within 180 days of separation and are not likely to be deployed to one of the key anthrax-threat areas -- Korea and Southwest Asia. The six-shot anthrax vaccination series takes 18 months to complete.
“If a person is within 180 days of discharge and not likely to be deployed to a high-threat area, it doesn’t make sense to start a program that takes 18 months to complete,” West said. "We wouldn’t be able to complete the series while the person was on active duty.
“However,” he continued, “if a person is within 180 days of separation and is in a hostile area or is unexpectedly deployed to a hostile area, we will vaccinate them and give them as much protection as we can under the approved FDA protocol.”
The general said the services were looking at the issue of exemptions for separating personnel differently, with recommendations ranging from 90 to 180 days. DoD officials decided to set one standard.
Medically speaking, certain individuals shouldn’t receive any immunizations, including anthrax. “Anthrax is a mandatory vaccination, but we want it to be given just like every other vaccine,” West said. “If a person has a medical reason not to take the vaccine or to be temporarily exempt from taking it, we want that to happen.”
Medical exemptions fall into several categories.
“The purpose of vaccines is to build antibodies in your body,” said Army Lt. Col. Gaston M. Randolph Jr., director of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program. “When you’re taking immunosuppressant drugs, your body doesn’t build antibodies. It’s sort of a waste to take the vaccine.”
West said these measures address “common-sense medical situations,” but said he felt the exemptions provide clarification because of the public controversy surrounding the vaccine.
Randolph explained that medical exemptions have always been
covered in the healthcare providers’ briefing, but until
now have not been spelled out in a single clear, concise
guideline to service members.