American Forces Press Service

Anthrax Vaccine First of Many Force Health Protection Measures


  By Douglas J. Gillert
 American Forces Press Service

 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Mandatory anthrax vaccinations are just the 
 beginning of medical countermeasures DoD has planned to protect 
 deployed service members, a senior health official said here 
 Nov. 2.
 "The anthrax vaccination is the first in a long series of force 
 protection measures to come," Mary Gerwin, deputy assistant 
 secretary of defense for health affairs, told TRICARE 
 communications, customer service and education representatives 
 attending a conference. While she didn't elaborate on future 
 measures, the Pentagon sponsors a number of research projects, 
 including one looking at smallpox as a potential threat to troop 
 Noting that at least 10 nations currently have the ability to 
 use anthrax as a weapon, Gerwin said, "The anthrax threat is 
 real. A high priority of the department is to make sure we have 
 effective countermeasures in place."
 Gerwin rejected concerns of some that the shots are unsafe.
 "We have a safe and effective vaccine that we have administered 
 to more than one million," she said. "The adverse reaction rate 
 is lower than for common childhood vaccinations."
 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced the total force 
 vaccination plans in December 1997. Vaccinations were 
 accelerated in March 1998 for troops assigned or deploying to 
 Southwest Asia and, subsequently, to Korea. After a three-year 
 study, Cohen concluded that the vaccination is the safest way to 
 protect highly mobile U.S. military forces against a potential 
 threat that is 99 percent lethal to unprotected individuals. 
 The immunization program consists of a series of six 
 inoculations per service member over an 18-month period, 
 followed by an annual booster. Although protection levels 
 increase as shots in the series are given, the entire six-shot 
 series is required for full protection, as determined by the 
 FDA. The cost to immunize an estimated 2.4 million military 
 people is approximately $130 million.
 "A small number are refusing to take the shots, largely because 
 of misinformation on the Internet," Gerwin said. Most of the 
 resistance to the shots has come from Guard and Reserve members, 
 although some active duty members also have resisted Cohen's 
 Service members who refuse the shots first go through education 
 and counseling to ensure they know all the facts and are making 
 an informed decision. If they still refuse, the commander can 
 then impose nonjudicial punishment, separation from the service 
 or court-martial.
 Responding to concerns of some service members and their 
 families, the Army's Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program office 
 established a committee to look closer at the vaccine. The 
 office comes under the Army surgeon general, executive agent for 
 the DoD anthrax immunization program. The group will define 
 research needs and set up studies to answer questions raised 
 about the vaccine.
 More information about the DoD anthrax immunization program is 
 available on the Internet at