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US Army Buys $30 Million Worth of Anthrax Shots - Assumes Ban on Innoculations will be Reversed

ABC News Online

The US Defence Department has announced a $US29.7 million order for anthrax vaccine based on the assumption that a federal judge's ban on mandatory inoculations will be reversed.

Privately held BioPort Corp of Lansing, Michigan, was awarded the Army order on Wednesday as part of a $US245.6 million contract, the Pentagon said.

The move demonstrates confidence "we will resume the anthrax vaccination program as it existed before the judge's order," said Bryan Whitman, a Defence Department spokesman.

On December 22, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan barred the Pentagon from "inoculating service members without their consent."

In a preliminary injunction, he ruled the vaccine used in the Pentagon's mandatory program was an "investigational drug" being used for what was an unapproved purpose.

The Pentagon said the next day it would administer the vaccine only on a voluntary basis until the legal issues were sorted out.

On Tuesday the US Food and Drug Administration said the anthrax vaccine was safe for use in protecting US troops against inhaled exposure to the potentially deadly bacteria.

The Bush administration then asked the court to lift the ban on mandatory shots.

The administration also has asked for a stay of the order for all service members except the six plaintiffs while the court weighs the government's motion for a complete lifting of the ban.

Mark Zaid, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the Army's order for the new vaccine doses could amount to a case of fraud, waste and abuse.

"If the judge's decision stands, the Pentagon may have just wasted millions of dollars," he said.

Defence officials say one million service members have been vaccinated since the program started in 1998.

Only about 10 have refused to take the shots since the September 11, 2001, attacks against Washington and New York.

Anthrax is considered the top biological weapon threat.

It can be transmitted in three ways - through inhalation of the spores, into a cut in the skin, or by eating contaminated meat.

Inhaled anthrax is by far the deadliest form.