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Air Force Begins Giving Mandatory Anthrax Shots in Korea

Air Force begins giving mandatory anthrax shots in Korea
By Franklin Fisher, Stars and Stripes

SS Maj. Nerriza Brooks of Osan Air Base's 51st Medical Group gives an anthrax shot to Master Sgt. Daniel Saiz of the 51st Mission Support Squadron on Wednesday.

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. Air Force in South Korea resumed mandatory anthrax shots for its airmen Wednesday, officials said.

Osan Air Base began mass vaccinations, said Lt. Col. Michael E. Shavers, spokesman for 7th Air Force at Osan. About 4,000 airmen are slated for the shots there, he said.

At Kunsan Air Base, the 8th Fighter Wing was to begin shots Friday for the wing’s 1,600 airmen, said Capt. James P. Lage, a wing spokesman.

This comes after the Pentagon’s top health official approved plans to restart anthrax vaccinations for troops serving in South Korea or in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

Since 2005 the shots had been voluntary. But when only half of U.S. troops chose to get them, the Pentagon in 2006 announced they would become mandatory for those deemed most at risk.

On Wednesday, the Air Force became the first branch to resume the shots in South Korea, officials at U.S. Forces Korea in Seoul said.

It could not immediately be learned from USFK when the other services on the peninsula are scheduled to begin anthrax shots.

The shots are to be given to all of the nearly 7,900 airmen serving in South Korea, except those who may be deemed exempt for medical or other reasons, officials said.

U.S. Air Force headquarters has set a goal that 90 percent of airmen in South Korea and in the CENTCOM area will have received or started to receive the shots by April 30 and the rest thereafter, Shavers said. The process entails six shots given over 18 months.

At Osan on Wednesday, medical teams staffed tables in the base theater and vaccinated airmen from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., a schedule they were to repeat Thursday, Shavers said. Shots also were being given at the base hospital, and are planned to be given at certain on- base squadrons.

In addition, medical teams are prepared to visit places other than Osan and Kunsan, said Lt. Col. Lee Harvis, commander of the 51st Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Osan.

“If we have to bring it to them, we’ll bring it to them,” he said.

Airmen who say they need to be exempted from the shots on medical grounds will be sent to the base hospital for checks to determine whether an exemption is warranted, Harvis said.

“It’s not our job to force anybody,” Harvis said.

No airmen refused the shot, Harvis said Wednesday afternoon.

Airmen have received medical briefings at their units about the upcoming immunizations, and also are given an informational pamphlet, Harvis said.

Should airmen decline the shot, a medical official will talk with them about their reluctance.

If they still decline, their names are to be noted and they are to discuss their refusal with their squadron commander, said Harvis.

Master Sgt. Daniel Saiz of the 51st Mission Support Squadron got his first anthrax shot in the base theater at Osan on Wednesday.

“I wasn’t interested,” he said, until medics gave a briefing about how lethal even a small quantity of anthrax can be.

“I prefer to get the shot,” said Saiz, “than to get what comes with picking up anthrax.”
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