American Forces Press Service

Cohen, Shelton Rap Times' Editorial on Anthrax Shots


  By Douglas J. Gillert
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON -- Halting mandatory anthrax shots would represent a 
 "significant disservice" to men and women in uniform, Defense 
 Secretary William Cohen and Gen. Henry Shelton said in a written 
 rebuttal to the Army Times Publishing Co.
 The July 12 editorial in the company's Army, Air Force, Navy and 
 Marine Times newspapers said DoD should let service members 
 choose whether to receive the shots until more testing is done 
 to determine if the vaccine may cause long-term health effects.
 Cohen and Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 
 their greatest concern is to adequately protect service members 
 serving in combat zones or anywhere anthrax may be a threat, and 
 making vaccinations optional could diminish military battle 
 readiness. At least 10 potential adversaries have worked to 
 develop anthrax as an offensive weapon, they said.
 "Our commanders must know that all, not simply some fraction, of 
 their forces are protected from this biological threat," the 
 secretary and chairman wrote. "Soldiers, sailors, airmen and 
 Marines fight in teams, and they need to know that all team 
 members are protected from anthrax."
 The two defense leaders compared receiving the shots to wearing 
 protective equipment. "Wearing helmets in battle isn't voluntary 
 because everybody needs protection," they said. "The same is 
 true of anthrax. Allowing a voluntary vaccination program is 
 inadequate in the face of this deadly threat."
 "It would be unconscionable not to protect our entire force with 
 a safe and effective vaccine," they said. Immunization requires 
 six shots over a period of 18 months. About 300,000 service 
 members have begun the series since Cohen ordered the mandatory 
 inoculations in early 1998, and about 1 million shots have been 
 given to date.
 Cohen and Shelton challenged an assertion the anthrax vaccine 
 hasn't been properly tested for safety. They said the Food and 
 Drug Administration first licensed the vaccine nearly 30 years 
 ago, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World 
 Health Organization and Institute of Medicine endorse its use.
 They said the vaccine manufacturer, BioPort Corp. of Lansing, 
 Mich., works under a compliance plan approved by the FDA to 
 ensure quality and is on schedule to meet DoD needs. 
 For the full text of the Cohen-Shelton response, go to