News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, June 29, 1999 - 2:30 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Mr. Bacon: I don't have any statements or charts to compete with General McDuffie's, so I'll take your questions, if you have any more questions.

Q: On the anthrax vaccine. In the past officials, including yourself, have talked about how safe the vaccine is. Yet there's a document that's come to light signed by Army Secretary Caldera that talks about "unusually hazardous risks associated with the potential for adverse reaction" in some recipients of the vaccine. How do you square the two?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, the newspaper article to which you're referring makes an egregious error. It substitutes the subject of a sentence. As every newspaper person knows, if you substitute the subject of a sentence, you can change the meaning of the sentence entirely.

The newspaper article refers to a legal document that was signed by Secretary Caldera to allow the manufacturer of the vaccine, a company called Bioport -- the successor to the Michigan Biologic Products Institute -- to allow it to receive indemnification under federal law. Certain standards have to be met in order to receive indemnification, and this memo was designed to meet those standards.

We all buy insurance for things we don't anticipate will ever happen, such as fire insurance for houses or libel insurance for newspapers. This was the company seeking a type of insurance, indemnification from suits, should they arise.

The fact of the matter is that everything we know about this vaccine makes it, shows us that it's incredibly safe. There was extensive testing before the vaccination process began. Secretary Cohen ordered that a number of tests be met. Those tests were met. Since we began vaccinating members of the armed services against exposure to anthrax, almost 900,000 shots have been given. The adverse reaction rate is a minuscule .009 percent. There have been 79 adverse reactions out of nearly 900,000 shots given so far. This is a lower adverse reaction rate than in the DPT vaccine that all our children have received and that we have all received in the course of our lives many times over. So this has turned out to be an extremely safe vaccine.

Remember, the reason Secretary Cohen decided to require vaccination against exposure to anthrax was that we believe this is a clear and present danger facing our troops today. We know that Iraq and other countries have developed and weaponized anthrax. Therefore, it is an exposure against which we are protecting the troops.

Exposure to anthrax is about 98 percent lethal. That is if you're not protected and you are exposed to anthrax, you have more than a 98 percent chance of having an adverse reaction, which is usually death. So this seemed to be a very sensible act to take, requiring vaccinations. Secretary Cohen did that. He has had three shots or four shots now. I've had three shots. My hair is growing more robust than ever. (Laughter) I sleep better. I eat better, run farther. It's been nothing but a great experience. (Laughter)

But I do urge you to compare the memorandum that Secretary of the Army Caldera signed with the article, because there is one fundamental substitution of a subject in a sentence. I think when you read the third paragraph of the memorandum -- which we'll make available for you in DDI -- and compare it to the article, you'll find it's the old "bait and switch" trick that none of you would perform, but has been performed in this case, and I think much to the disservice of a program that has been designed to protect America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.



Q: One question about the anthrax. What countries besides Iraq are known to have weaponized anthrax?

Mr. Bacon: Certainly, Russia at one time had an active anthrax program. Iraq has weaponized it. We believe that North Korea has an anthrax capability. And there may be other countries as well that have anthrax capabilities.

But it only takes one country to launch anthrax against our troops to inflict heavy damage, if the troops have not been vaccinated. That's why we have adopted this program to require all members of the military to be vaccinated against anthrax exposure.


Q: On that same issue, you said the company was called BioPort, the successor company, that was seeking indemnification, whatever it's called. Anyway, is it normal for a company doing contracting to the federal government to get essentially subsidized indemnification? Or would they get just private insurance like any other company?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the Secretary of the Army has issued a statement, which I commend to your attention, on this very issue. He says that there is a provision in the law to indemnify companies against certain types of product liability risk, and that in this case it seemed a reasonable measure to take. I'm not an expert on product liability or any liability, probably, so I can't tell you how often this provision of the law is invoked by the government.

Q: Can you explain why it was a reasonable measure to take in this case?

Mr. Bacon: I think the memorandum does explain why it was a reasonable measure to take, and I commend that to your attention.

Press: Thank you very much.