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Senate wants Army to keep paying for vaccine centers

By Rick Maze
Air Force Times Staff writer

The Senate wants the Army to keep paying for vaccine health care centers, which provide care for people who have adverse reactions, even though the other services are benefiting.

The Army has been paying about $6 million for the congressionally mandated vaccine centers, which treated 708 people last year. To make certain this continues, the Senate has earmarked $2 million in the 2007 defense appropriations bill specifically so the Army keeps running the centers.

While not enough to fully cover the costs, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman, said including the money is an important step because costs have been covered so far only through emergency supplemental funds. Stevens stressed that the $2 million “is not meant to be a cap on what can and should be spent” but simply to reflect continued congressional support.

There are four vaccine health centers that provide care for service members suffering adverse reactions to military-ordered vaccinations. Two are Army centers, one at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the other at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington. There is also one center at Lackland Air Force Base, Tex., and one at Portsmouth, Va.

In addition to money in the appropriations bill, the Senate also inserted language earlier this year in the 2007 defense authorization bill. It sets policy that prevents the downsizing or restructuring of the centers.

Steven said he hoped the Defense Department would take over funding for the centers once a final decision on their future is made. Congressional investigators plan to issue a report on the centers next year that could decide the fate.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who has been a champion for the centers, said there has been an 83 percent increase in patients at the centers since they started operations in 2001.

The centers, Biden said, “are unique in the nation for their expertise in adult vaccinations and adverse reactions to them.”

“The military today relies on vaccines as an element of force protection,” he said. “These vaccines are generally considered to be safe but they are still drugs that are put into the body. As such, there are always a small number of personnel that have adverse reactions.”

Those with adverse reactions “are our responsibility,” Biden said. “While serving their nation, they are required to take these vaccinations. If they are made ill by that requirement, we must give them the best possible care, just as we do for those who lose a limb.”