News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, January 21, 1999 - 2:30 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


A: No. Chris, do you have a question?

Q: Actually I need to ask about another subject.

Q: Go ahead.

Q: The anthrax vaccine issue has come up again. Some members of the Connecticut Air National Guard have refused to take it, and I think some of them have even resigned over the issue. Do you have anything on that?

A: I do. What do you want? (Laughter)

Q: Get out the old boilerplate.

A: First of all, the reason we're requiring members of the military to receive anthrax shots is that we think it's a very important and very safe force protection measure. As you know, biological warfare is one of the emerging threats we face, and the anthrax vaccine was certified by the Food and Drug Administration in 1970. It's been used since then by veterinarians, by people who deal with cattle, and by some soldiers and others with a very good record of safety. It's proven itself safe and reliable. It works, and it does not have side effects.

We have given now I think shots to nearly 170,000 people in the military starting with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton and Deputy Secretary Hamre in this building. Secretary Danzig, Secretary of the Navy Danzig had shots more than a year ago, a year and a half ago when he was under secretary of the Navy. All these people are fine.

We think that this has been proven safe, and we think it is a very good way to deal with the risk that people could face on the battlefield. The reason members of the 103rd Fighter Wing of the Connecticut Air National Guard based at Bradley Field outside of Hartford were being given these shots is that they're scheduled to deploy to the Gulf later this year. And therefore, because we are giving these shots first to people going to Southwest Asia, and, secondly, to people in or going to Korea, and then after that, people who are likely to deploy to these or other hot spots, they're in line to get these shots.

So I think eight or nine people have resigned rather than take the shots. This has been generally an extremely successful program, and I think that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines understand that this is for their own protection. We have found that almost all willingly take these shots.

Q: Is it a good safety record?

A: I think it's had; I'm not aware that there are problems with this vaccine.

Q: Nobody has fallen ill as a result of taking the anthrax shot that you're aware?

A: Every vaccine imposes some risk to people who might have other symptoms or some sort of syndromes. And there have been some reactions to the vaccine. But the reactions are very, very small numbers, and tend to be extremely minor, a little redness on the arm, for instance. A severe reaction is one that might involve a slightly elevated fever -- a serious reaction.

Q: (inaudible)

A: I think over 400,000 shots have been given. As of January 12th, which is my last record, 463,226 shots have been given to 166,233 service members.

Q: In the past when some of these shots were refused, they were generally by lower-ranking enlisted personnel. These apparently involved officers. Do they have any legitimate health concern here, or is this just ignorance? Is it irrational fear of these shots? Why would these officers refuse to take these shots?

A: My understanding, I have not talked to these officers, but my understanding is that eight have resigned or said they plan to resign. Six of those, during exit interviews, said that anthrax was one of many factors that entered into their decision to resign. Some may have found that the pressures of staying in the Air Guard and training were hard to maintain with their family lives or their business lives; some may not have wanted to deploy to the Gulf for family or business or other personal reasons. I don't know what those other reasons are. But anthrax was, as I said, cited as only one of the reasons in the case of six people who got out.

Q: Couldn't the Pentagon or the military court martial these officers for refusing to take these shots? And why was that not...

A: Because they resigned. There are a number of options available. One is court martial, one is non-judicial punishment, another is discharge, another is retirement, and another is reassignment. Basically people who have not taken the shot have tended to get out of the service. It's an all volunteer service.

Q: But this is not a voluntary program, right?

A: It is not a voluntary program. People who are going to be... Eventually everybody in the military will have to take these shots. But right now people going to the Gulf must take these shots.

Mr. Lambros?

Q: Another subject?

Q: Have you taken the shot?

A: I haven't. I've thought often about it. I certainly have no hesitation to take the shot.

Q: Why are you hesitating then? (Laughter)

A: You know, I probably should review my entire shot record and go in and get new DPT shots and everything else that are probably up to date for my children but not up to date for me.

Q: You go to the Persian Gulf regularly.

A: I do. I do. That's why I thought that I should take these shots. Maybe some day I'll come here and tell you that I've taken the shot.

More questions on this Connecticut National Guard? (No response)