View Full Version : Anthrax vaccinations resumed by Marines

10-24-02, 01:10 PM
Shots given to gulf-bound troops

By Jeanette Steele and James W. Crawley

October 19, 2002

Marines bound for the Persian Gulf are getting anthrax vaccinations as the military resumes widespread use of the vaccine for the first time since mid-2001.

Among them are several hundred Marines from a command unit at Camp Pendleton that will be leaving soon for Kuwait, said Capt. Alison Salerno, a base spokeswoman.

Others who will be vaccinated include the 2,200 Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Pendleton and the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. They're scheduled for Persian Gulf deployment this year or in early 2003.

Officials won't say how many of the 172,500 Marines throughout the Corps will receive the shots.

It's part of a Pentagon decision to resume anthrax vaccinations for selected military members from all four services who are being sent into high-threat areas.

Marine Corps headquarters issued an order Sept. 20 to resume immunizations for those Marines bound for the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The Corps cited "current intelligence assessments (that) indicate the anthrax threat remains real."

The Marines started getting the shots late last month.

A spokesman at San Diego Naval Medical Center at Balboa Park referred all questions to the Pentagon, which declined to provide information about the Navy's policy.

Salerno said the Marines are deciding whether to expand the program.

A shortage of the anthrax vaccine caused mass immunizations to be suspended in mid-2001, but supply is not a problem now, she said.

BioPort, a Michigan firm and the nation's sole manufacturer of the anthrax vaccine, received approval to restart production in January after previously falling out of compliance with government quality standards.

The Pentagon, through its Web sites, says Marines deploying to the Persian Gulf will get the shots, but most Navy personnel aboard ships there will not be vaccinated. Nor will personnel flying over the region, unless they are based in certain countries.

Shots apparently are planned for troops assigned to ground units or bases in the gulf region. Personnel aboard ships and aircraft are less likely to be affected by anthrax.

Several years ago, at least 37 members of the military were court-martialed for refusing to take the shot.

No one at Pendleton or Miramar has declined to be vaccinated since the program resumed, Marine officials said.

The Marines cite a climate of acceptance after anthrax-tainted letters killed five Americans late last year and after a study by the National Academy of Sciences pronounced the vaccine to be safe.

"We're finding great tolerance from Marines," Salerno said. "Not only has the threat become more credible in the area they are going to, but also the Defense Department has made a real effort to show this is a safe and effective vaccine."

However, a Washington, D.C., attorney who defended several San Diego-area Marines who refused the shots in the past said he has received calls from service members, though none from area Marines or sailors.

Because the anthrax threat "is a little bit closer to home, some of the people who were on the fence may lean more toward taking (the shot)," said the lawyer, Mark Zaid.

But, he added, "it's no safer than it was before."

The Pentagon embarked on a program in 1998 to inoculate all 2.4 million service members against anthrax, a biological weapon thought to be held by Iraq.

The campaign faltered because of supply problems and because it came under fire from Congress. Additionally, hundreds of service members left the military because they feared the vaccine posed a health risk.

Six shots, given over 18 months, and annual boosters are required for full immunity. People who already have received some shots will continue the series where they left off, officials said.

The punishment facing Marines who might refuse the vaccine officially called disobeying a lawful order is still court-martial, Salerno said.



10-28-02, 09:59 AM

October 22, 2002
Pilots Left Military Over Anthrax

Pilots Left Military Over Anthrax

Filed at 10:42 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Highly trained and experienced pilots and crews in the Air
National Guard and Air Force Reserve are leaving or have left military
service in part because of the Pentagon's anthrax vaccine, congressional
investigators say in a report released Tuesday.

Randomly selected guard and reserve troops surveyed in 2000 by the General
Accounting Office also reported adverse reactions to the vaccine at double
the rate claimed by the manufacturer, BioPort Corp., the GAO said.

Military members who have left represent some of the most experienced and
highly trained individuals in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve
``and are people not easily replaced,'' the GAO said.

``While many factors can and do influence an individual's decision to
participate in the military, a significant number of pilot and air crew
members cited the required mandatory anthrax immunization as a key reason for
reducing their participation or leaving the military altogether in 2000,''
the GAO said.

The GAO recommended that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld require a
surveillance program to monitor problems with the vaccine. The program should
ensure complete and appropriate treatment and follow-up for those who
experience problems or who may have them in the future, the auditors said.

In a response included with the report, the Defense Department disagreed with
the GAO's recommendation and some of its findings. Reginald J. Brown,
assistant secretary of the Army, cited a National Academy of Sceinces report
that concluded there was no data that pointed to the need for a monitoring
program. Brown also said the GAO's findings on rates of separation by pilots
were not supported by data from the Defense Manpower Data Center and the GAO
did not consider normal turnover rates.

The GAO mailed 1,253 surveys in May 2000 and received 843 responses, with 833
providing useful information. The surveys were developed with the help of
pilots and other aircrew members of the Air National Guard and Air Force

The survey was conducted at the request of Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman
of the House Government Reform Committee.

``Anthrax is a serious threat that our soldiers might face on the
battlefield. At the same time, this vaccine has been controversial, and it
has caused serious reactions in some individuals,'' Burton said in a news

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacteria. Five
people were killed in last year's anthrax attacks by mail. It is considered
to be a possible biological weapon that could be used against U.S. troops.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have received vaccines to protect them
against anthrax, particularly during the Persian Gulf War. After a long pause
in the inoculation program, the pace of vaccinations was accelerated last
month, officials said. Some veterans and researchers believe the vaccine is
partly responsible for illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans.

According to the GAO survey, between September 1998 and September 2000, about
16 percent of guard and reserve pilots and air crew had moved to inactive
status, left the military or transferred to another unit -- mostly nonflying
positions to avoid or delay receiving anthrax shots.

About 18 percent of those in or assigned to a unit indicated they planed to
leave in the near future. The GAO said both groups ranked the anthrax vaccine
as a key factor in their decision.

About 45 percent said they would consider returning if the anthrax
immunization were voluntary.

The GAO estimated that about 37 percent of the service members surveyed had
received one or more anthrax shots as of September 2000. Of those, 85 percent
reported experiencing some sort of reaction, far higher than the 30 percent
claimed by the vaccine manufacturer.

Each shot generated an average of four or more reported reactions, some that
could have negative effects on the service member's job, the GAO said.

The GAO said it found two DOD studies of the vaccine, one in Korea and one in
Hawaii, that reported similar reaction rates.


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