AL JABER AIR BASE, Kuwait -- Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said he would be "derelict" in his duties if he failed to protect U.S. service members from anthrax and other biological weapons.
Speaking to about 200 Operation Southern Watch troops gathered in an aircraft hangar here March 9, Cohen said the anthrax vaccine was independently tested, FDA approved, and it's completely safe.
Cohen visited here during a six-nation swing through the Persian Gulf to discuss regional threats with Gulf state leaders. He thanked the U.S. airmen, primarily from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Air National Guard members from Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania for supporting Operation Southern Watch. He then fielded questions on deployments, operations tempo and the military's proposed pay package.
One young man asked, "What about anthrax?"
"We've had roughly 180,000 anthrax shots delivered -- I've had five," Cohen replied, adding he was first in line for the shots, followed by U.S. Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We don't ever want to ask you to do something that we're not prepared to do as well."
Cohen said he ordered the mandatory shots because he was deploying troops to the Persian Gulf, where chemical and biological weapons could be used. He said U.S. officials had learned that Saddam Hussein was making weapons with biological agents.
"If you were not properly protected against that, I would be derelict in my duties sending you out in an environment in which you weren't properly protected," he said.
Despite news accounts and the proliferation of Internet misinformation about the vaccine, about 180,000 people have been vaccinated uneventfully, Cohen said. "So far, roughly 80 people have refused to take the shots. That's a pretty good record," he said.
Cohen charged unit leaders to stress to their people that the anthrax shots are for their own protection. "This is the most likely type of biological agent you would come into contact with," he said. "We want to make sure we're fully protected."
Related Site of Interest: Countering the Anthrax Threat