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Military Anthrax Shots Delayed


WASHINGTON, -- The Pentagon Monday reported more delays in its program to vaccinate all 2.4 million service members against anthrax, a lethal disease that might be used as a biological weapon.

About 383,000 service members, most of whom serve in high-threat areas like South Korea and the Persian Gulf, have received all or part of the series of six shots, said Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Pentagon officials warned Monday that the program, already six months behind schedule, might slip another six months to a year.

As a result, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has delayed vaccinating military forces and reservists not stationed in high-threat areas until the Pentagon has assurances it will have an adequate, safe supply.

Obtaining a reliable supply of the vaccine is the main problem, Dr. Bailey and other Pentagon officials said, because the one company manufacturing the vaccine, BioPort Corporation of Lansing, Mich., has had production problems and cost overruns. The company has not obtained approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin producing the vaccine at its new plant.

The Pentagon agreed in August to pay more per dose and to make an $18.7 million advance payment to BioPort to enable the company to pay creditors. Now, an additional $7 million to $10 million from the government may be needed, said David Oliver, a deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"We underestimated how difficult this was going to be," Oliver said.

Anthrax is an infectious disease that is lethal if inhaled. The Pentagon considers it one of the greatest biological weapon threats to American military forces.