Pentagon Ready to Restart Anthrax Vaccinations on a Voluntary Basis

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May 5 , 2005

[Have an opinion about the issues discussed in this article? Sound off in our Discussion Boards.]

By Leo Shane III
Stars and Stripes European edition

WASHINGTON — Soldiers could begin receiving the anthrax vaccine again as early as this week, but they'll be able to choose whether they want it, according to Army medical officials.

On Tuesday, Defense Department officials approved resuming the inoculations pending a final review from each of the four services.

Col. John Grabenstein, the deputy director of the military vaccine agency, said he anticipates Army officials will finalize their procedures by the end of this week or early next week, and the other three services will likely start about a week afterward.

First in line to be vaccinated will be troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and any units focused on bioterrorism defense, Grabenstein said.

In October, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan barred defense officials from administering the mandatory inoculations, citing mistakes in how the Food and Drug Administration determined the safety of the vaccine.

In early April, he loosened that ban, saying the vaccines could resume on an “emergency use,” voluntary basis. No servicemember can be punished for declining the shots. The ruling also requires that anyone receiving the inoculation first be warned of possible side effects and be made aware of questions surrounding its effectiveness.

Defense Department officials have crafted a brochure to distribute to all military personnel regarding the risks and benefits of the vaccines. Servicemembers also will have the opportunity to consult with medical officials about the side effects before receiving the vaccine.

Grabenstein said doses have been manufactured since the ban went into effect, so there should be no shortage. Doses are already in place in South Korea and the Middle East, and additional shipments will be sent in the coming weeks.

The vaccination program is a six-dose initial inoculation and an additional booster each year.

The Defense Department administered more than 5.2 million vaccine doses to more than 1.3 million military personnel between 1998 and last October