WASHINGTON -- Service members, DoD emergency essential civilian employees and contractors must now receive anthrax vaccinations if they'll spend any time in one of 10 high-threat areas, the Pentagon announced March 31. Previously, only DoD personnel who were deploying for more than 30 days to a high-threat area had to start the six-shot vaccine series.
The modification to the anthrax vaccination immunization program is effective immediately.
The Joint Staff identified high-threat areas as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Korea and Israel.
Officials said DoD initially set the 30-day threshold to help get the immunization program established and to make sure there were enough vaccine stocks on hand. Top priority went to those personnel already at high risk. Shots started in March 1998 with personnel in Southwest Asia. Since then, the program has matured and vaccine stockpiles have been built to support all military service demands, even with the elimination of the 30-day threshold.
The program modification will provide protection to U.S. personnel from the moment they arrive in theater. Since the effectiveness of the vaccine increases with each vaccination, the goal is for personnel to receive three vaccinations prior to deployment. If even one vaccination prior to deployment is not possible, vaccine stocks are available in the high-threat areas to immediately begin providing the shot series.
Personnel in fly-over or standby teams are not included in the program modification.
The program change is not expected to significantly increase demand for the vaccine. About 250,000 U.S. service members and DoD civilians will be inoculated in 1999; the number includes personnel affected by the new policy. About 31,000 to be vaccinated this year are reserve component members.
On March 9, Secretary of Defense William Cohen explained to U.S. airmen at a
Kuwaiti air base that he made the decision to implement the immunization program
because "I would be derelict in my duties sending you out in an environment
in which you weren't properly protected."
"The sole reason for this program authorized by the secretary of defense is force protection," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday during a recent news conference. "The shots are a medical measure designed to protect members of the U.S. military who may at some time be deployed to a theater where anthrax is a threat."
Doubleday said DoD began studying protecting service members from anthrax in the early 1990s. DoD is using the same vaccine that livestock workers and others at risk in the civilian sphere have received since the Food and Drug Administration approved it nearly 30 years ago. The FDA has been monitoring DoD's program, and DoD itself performs supplemental tests to guarantee continued quality and safety.
To date 218,000 service members received about 616,000 shots of the vaccine. Fewer than 200 have refused the shots -- less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the force, said Doubleday.
DoD considers the refusal to comply with the anthrax immunization program as a lawful order violation that not only endangers an individual's health, but also places the unit and mission at risk. Because refusing the shots is disobeying a direct and lawful order, said Doubleday, those who refuse are subject to administrative and disciplinary actions.
For more information, visit the Defense Department's anthrax vaccination Web site.