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Pentagon Prepares for More Vaccine

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is considering a resumption of anthrax vaccinations for U.S. troops now that the nation's sole maker of the vaccine has been cleared to resume production.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday he was awaiting a recommendation on how and when to resume an inoculation program. He said the details were being considered by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who
will forward his recommendation to Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld did not say definitively that the program would be restarted, but other officials said Myers had received a recommendation that it be phased in as soon as sufficient doses of vaccine are available.

On Jan. 31 the Food and Drug Administration approved BioPort's new manufacturing plant to produce anthrax vaccine. The Pentagon immediately welcomed the approval but said it had not yet decided the future of its immunization program, which in 1997 set a goal of immunizing all 2.4 million U.S. troops.

On Monday Rumsfeld indicated that vaccine shots were likely to resume. He said he was preparing to make "final decisions about how it might be reinstituted and when and on what basis."

"There are a series of technical questions that are being looked at as to how one might do it and in what format and in what sequence and those types of things," he added. "It's an important issue, and goodness knows you want to do it right."

Four years of BioPort factory violations had left the Pentagon with dwindling supplies and forced it to limit vaccine shots to certain troops on special missions.

In addition to the problem with supplies, the Pentagon has kicked hundreds of military personnel out of the service for refusing to take the shots. Some of those who chose not to take the vaccine worried it could be connected to complaints of chronic fatigue, memory loss and other problems.

The government says the vaccine is safe, with rare occurrences of severe side effects such as dangerous allergic reactions.

In March a panel of scientists endorsed the safety and effectiveness of the anthrax vaccine, but also recommended research into improving it. The study by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine concluded that the vaccine protects against all forms of anthrax and has no more serious side effects than other vaccines given to adults.

Last year's anthrax-by-mail attacks focused additional attention on the vaccine. The impetus for the Pentagon's 1997 decision to immunize every member of the military was a growing concern that Iraq or another country hostile to the United States might attack U.S. forces with a biological agent such as anthrax.