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Anthrax vaccine to be required for troops - Daily Press

After years of controversy and a federal court case, the Defense Department will resume its mandatory vaccination program.

BY STEPHANIE HEINATZ
http://www.dailypress.com/news/local/dp-54685sy0oct17,0,4524093.story?coll=dp-news-local-final

The Defense Department will again require anthrax shots for all service members deployed to overseas hotspots, despite concerns the vaccinations might be unsafe and a federal court ruling that put the policy on hold two years ago.


The inoculations will start 30 to 60 days from now, said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs.

Vaccinations will be mandatory for troops, contractors and department civilians sent to the Korean Peninsula or Central Command, the region that includes Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

Troops who refuse the shot will be subject to disciplinary action for disobeying a lawful order. Since 2002, 38 service members have been kicked out for refusing.

"The anthrax vaccine will protect our troops from another threat - a disease that will kill, caused by bacteria that already has been used as a weapon in America," Winkenwerder said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

Five people died in 2001 from anthrax attacks made through the U.S. postal system, Winkenwerder noted.

Anthrax is a rare yet potentially lethal bacterium that can be used, under some conditions, as a biological weapon. Such weapons are outlawed by international treaty and considered weapons of mass destruction.

Winkenwerder said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and several independent agencies have reviewed the vaccine, and deemed it effective against all exposures: ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.

In 1991, the department began a widespread inoculation program, fearing that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would use chemical and biological weapons on troops deployed for the first Gulf War.

After that war, doctors and researchers began to link the shot to veterans returning home with, among other ailments, joint pain, memory loss and intestinal problems.

A series of federal court rulings in 2004 overturned the mandatory anthrax vaccine program for the military after six unnamed service members and government employees filed suit claiming the vaccine was experimental. The court ruled that the FDA had not offered a meaningful and effective public hearing period before approving the drug.

The department decided to make the vaccine program voluntary. Since October 2005, roughly half of the troops deploying to regions where officials feared the biological weapon could be used accepted the shots.

On Dec. 15, 2005, the FDA announced that after further study, the military's anthrax vaccine met the standards for safety and effectiveness.

Not everyone is convinced, however.

In May 2006, the Government Accountability Office released a report that concluded "the vaccine has not been adequately tested on humans; no studies have been done to determine the optimum number of doses; the long-term safety has not been studied and data on short-term reactions are limited."

The investigative arm of Congress recommended the development of a "better, alternative vaccine."

Winkenwerder disputed that report, saying there have been long-term studies and that "it would not be the first time the GAO made an incorrect statement."

Patrick Kelly, who left the Navy as a junior-grade lieutenant after 19 years in the service, doesn't believe it.

Kelly was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in 2003. Doctors told him he probably had the rare form of cancer for two to three years - or from when Kelly first started receiving the anthrax vaccine.

No scientific research concretely links the cancer to the vaccine, but Kelly is positive the two are connected.

After his anthrax inoculations, Kelly said he suffered from joint pain, loss of eyesight, impotence, fatigue and broken bones in his back.

In the immediate days after he was vaccinated, Kelly remembers his arm being tender. Once, he said, his bicep swelled to double its size.

Kelly is still fighting both the cancer and the military, he said.

He takes three different types of drugs, some experimental, and writes members of Congress to beg them to look at the anthrax issue.

"Everyone wants to dodge this," Kelly said. The Defense Department will "justify it by saying they need it for war. But there's a lot of other ways people can kill you besides anthrax. I wouldn't have any faith in the vaccine."

Staff researcher Tracy Sorensen contributed to this report.

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