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U.S. vaccinates troops against anthrax - UPI

U.S. vaccinates troops against anthrax

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- The Pentagon has said it will restart a mandatory anthrax vaccination program for U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Korea.

Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said Monday the vaccinations would probably restart in 30 to 60 days and "several hundreds of thousands" of troops will be required to receive them. There are 140,000 troops in Iraq, around 30,000 in Korea, and tens of thousands more in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries.

The mandatory vaccination program was suspended in October 2004 after a legal challenge of its safety and effectiveness. It has been a voluntary vaccination program since, with about 50 percent of military personnel eligible to receive it actually taking it. "Military members expect if something is truly important ... it would be mandatory," Winkenwerder said. "Obviously we've been sending a signal it's not as important as we believe it is. That's why we are returning to mandatory program for higher risk."

The FDA determined the vaccine to be safe and effective in December 2005.

"The FDA has said after an exhaustive review the vaccine is safe and effective against all forms of exposure of anthrax," Winkenwerder told reporters Monday in a telephone conference. "There is no vaccine, no medical treatment, no drug for which there never has been a single significant side effect or event noted in not one person."

Winkenwerder said the decision was made to limit the vaccinations to overseas deployments because that was where the greatest threat was anticipated.

Winkenwerder said there were sufficient doses to cover all service personnel, as well as mission essential civilian contractors. The program had to be severely scaled back in 2001 after the supply of approved doses ran out.