DoD Resumes Mandatory Anthrax Vaccinations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2006 - The Defense Department will resume mandatory anthrax inoculations for servicemembers and civilians deploying to U.S. Central Command and Korea, DoD officials said today.

The six-shot series provides immunity from a deadly disease that has been used as a biological attack agent, said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

A small number of servicemembers assigned to homeland defense units will also receive the shots.

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will issue instructions to the services in the next two months. The program will start soon after.

A court order halted mandatory vaccinations in 2004. In 2005, the order was lifted, and servicemembers deploying to the area or in special units could choose to receive the vaccinations or not. Roughly 50 percent of those deploying did opt for the shots.

"The anthrax vaccine is safe; it is effective for all forms of anthrax spore exposure," Winkenwerder said. "Time and again (this vaccine) has been looked at by experts, ... and each time the conclusion is the vaccine is safe and it is effective."

The assistant secretary said the anthrax threat is still out there. "Our adversaries continue to remind us that they are determined to obtain nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," he said. "We do not yet know who perpetrated the attacks of October 2001." In that incident, letters filled with anthrax spores killed five, sickened 17 and contaminated the Hart Senate Office Building so badly it was months before the building was deemed safe.

It's important to make the vaccination program mandatory, Winkenwerder said. "There is a signal sent if a program is voluntary that perhaps it is just not that important," he said. "Our actual view is that it is very important. We believe it should be mandatory, because we want to protect every person to the maximum degree possible who might be a target."

While the program is mandatory for those deploying to threat areas, the program will be voluntary for servicemembers and civilians who started their vaccine series but had to stop because of the judge's order. "If they wish to continue with their vaccine series, we will make it available," Winkenwerder said.

Research continues on the anthrax vaccine. The assistant secretary said DoD is looking at studies conducted with the Centers for Disease Control that may allow the department to reduce the number of shots from six to five or even four. "We don't have FDA concurrence or approval for that yet," he said.

There is no shortage of the vaccine, Winkenwerder said.

[Web Version:]