More military personnel to get anthrax and smallpox shots

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Jul 1, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – More US troops and civilian defense workers serving overseas will be getting smallpox and anthrax vaccinations in coming months, the US Department of Defense (DoD) announced yesterday.

DoD officials ordered vaccinations for uniformed personnel and some civilian and contract workers serving in South Korea. They also ordered an expansion of vaccinations in the Central Command Area, consisting primarily of the Middle East, to include all uniformed personnel. Some troops in the Middle East have already had the shots.

William Winkenwerder, Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, cited an increase in vaccine supplies as the reason for expanding the program; he did not mention any increase in the threat of biological warfare.

DoD recently evaluated the vaccination program and risk of biological attack and concluded that the threat continues, Winkenwerder said in a prepared statement. "In light of our successful implementation of these programs and the increased quantities of vaccine, we will include additional forces in the vaccination programs," he said.

DoD reports that about 1.1 million people have received anthrax shots since the anthrax immunization program began in March 1998. The program was sharply reduced in 2000 because of a shortage of vaccine related to problems with the manufacturing plant, but it was later increased again. Since June 2002, about 750,000 service members have received more than 2.2 million doses of anthrax vaccine, DoD officials said. Vaccination involves six shots over 18 months, plus annual boosters afterward.

More than 627,000 service members have received smallpox shots since that immunization program began in December 2002, according to DoD reports.

A memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on the vaccination programs was posted on a DoD Web site. It calls for vaccination of uniformed personnel assigned to Korea or likely to be deployed there in a crisis, plus "emergency essential" civilian DoD workers and employees of military contractors handling essential services in Korea. The memo also calls for voluntary vaccinations for family members of military personnel in Korea, other DoD civilian employees and their families there, and "non-essential" contractor personnel there.

For the Central Command Area, the memo calls for immunization of all uniformed personnel, emergency-essential civilian workers, and contractor employees handling essential services.

The DoD announcement did not include any estimate of how many additional personnel will be vaccinated in the expanded program.

Some military personnel have refused anthrax shots because of concerns about side effects. The program was suspended for about 2 weeks last December and January because of a federal court order in a lawsuit brought by six service members seeking to stop the vaccinations.

Winkenwerder said in his statement, "Refusals [of anthrax vaccination] among service members leading to separations from the service have been extremely rare since 2002, only four per 100,000 persons vaccinated."

See also:

Jun 30 statement by William Winkenwerder, Jr.
http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=7508

Jun 28 memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
http://www.anthrax.mil/media/pdf/ATX_SVPexpansion.pdf

DoD Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program site
http://www.anthrax.osd.mil/

DoD smallpox vaccination program site
http://www.smallpox.mil/

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