American Forces Press Service

25 Years of Anthrax Shots: First-hand Accounts of Vaccine Safety


  By Douglas J. Gillert
 American Forces Press Service

 FORT DETRICK, Md. -- John Kondig began receiving anthrax 
 vaccinations more than 25 years ago. Then, he was a soldier 
 working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's research 
 laboratory, here. 
 Today, Kondig still works as a research chemist in the facility, 
 now called the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of 
 Infectious Diseases. And he and fellow researchers still get 
 regular anthrax boosters as well as many other vaccinations 
 against biological agents. For Kondig, it's a matter of playing 
 it safe.
 "If you think you may be going to an area where anthrax is 
 endemic, I would take the vaccination, just as a safety 
 precaution," he said. "It's a much safer situation than risking 
 the disease. If there's a vaccine for something that you're 
 going to be working with, I've always felt it wiser to take the 
 Kondig said he's never doubted the anthrax vaccine's safety. 
 "I've been involved enough in producing vaccines for trial tests 
 to know what kind of work goes into making those safe and 
 effective," he said. "I never had any questions about taking 
 Kondig said nearly all his laboratory colleagues receive anthrax 
 inoculations and none has experienced problems from the shot 
 aside from some initial soreness that quickly dissipates. One of 
 his relatively new colleagues, Army Spc. Amber Stanley, said she 
 has never suffered any pain from the shot. And, after seeing the 
 effects of anthrax on laboratory rabbits, she's glad she has the 
 protection the shots provide.
 Stanley didn't know much about anthrax when she arrived at Fort 
 Detrick in 1997. She was told the shots were necessary for her 
 line of work. 
 "We have an ongoing anthrax protocol," said the specialist, who 
 plans a career in environmental science after completing her 
 current master's degree program. "Being a small-animal 
 technician, I go [to the bio-contaminant area] and 'bleed' 
 infected rabbits."
 Having seen rabbits that survived because they received anthrax 
 vaccinations, and unvaccinated rabbits that died, she's 
 convinced of the need to get the shots.
 "I don't think it's very intelligent of people not to get the 
 shots," she said. "I've seen the vaccine work on the animals. 
 I've seen them survive against different anthrax strains. I feel 
 safer going in there, especially working with needles."
 Stanley said it's difficult watching unvaccinated rabbits die 
 from anthrax. "How graphic would you like me to be?" she asked, 
 without a hint of a smile. 
 "After being infected, they become increasingly lethargic," she 
 said. "Their eyes get runny. It's difficult to [draw blood from 
 them] because they get very dehydrated. And then, in about seven 
 days, it's almost like a rabid effect. They convulse, and then 
 that's it. They're gone really quick. It's nasty.
 "Everyone here has had the shots, and I haven't met anyone who's 
 had any problems," Stanley said. "I wouldn't recommend not 
 getting them."