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No anthrax vaccine for Afghanistan troops, despite U.S. decision

http://bodyandhealth.canada.com/channel_health_news_details.asp?news_id=11839&news_channel_id=1020&channel_id=1020&rot=11

No anthrax vaccine for Afghanistan troops, despite U.S. decision:
DNDProvided by: Canadian Press
Written by: DENE MOORE

MONTREAL (CP) - Canadian military officials say they're not considering a mandatory anthrax vaccination campaign even though the U.S. military has made the controversial inoculation mandatory for its soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

As of April 30, all U.S. soldiers heading to Afghanistan will have to be immunized against anthrax.

The U.S. Department of Defence has announced that all branches of its military will have to inoculate service members heading to high threat areas, including Iraq, Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula.

But Gloria Kelly, spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces health services group, said Monday that the Department of National Defence is not considering the same.

"At this point in time, we are not requiring our people to have anthrax vaccinations nor are we considering it," Kelly said from Ottawa.

Both the Canadian and U.S. militaries ceased mandatory anthrax immunizations after questions arose about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

The U.S. army continued to offer a voluntary vaccination but only about half of U.S. soldiers signed on.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since declared the anthrax vaccine safe and effective, opening the door to the mandatory program south of the border.

"The anthrax vaccine will protect our troops from another threat - a disease that will kill, caused by a bacteria that already has been used as a weapon in America, and that terrorists openly discuss," Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defence for health affairs, said in a U.S. defence department statement announcing the program.

"The threat environment and the unpredictable nature of terrorism make it necessary to include biological warfare defence as part of our force protection measures."

In little more than six weeks, all U.S. soldiers heading to Afghanistan will have to be immunized against anthrax, a bacterial infection that commonly occurs in domesticated animals.

Anthrax has not been used in combat but five people died and 17 were sickened when anthrax spores were sent through the U.S. mail in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Dr. Ron Wojtyk, of Canadian Forces health services, said the threat of anthrax exposure in Afghanistan is not sufficient enough to make the vaccine mandatory.

Wojtyk said the U.S. is deployed in areas where the threat is more pressing, such as Iraq.

"If we deploy to an area where there is a threat of anthrax or possible release on a bioterrorist type of scenario, then there would be an order for anthrax and it would be mandatory," Wojtyk said Monday.

Canada has about 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

During the 1991 Gulf War western troops were immunized against anthrax.

The Canadian military received special permission from Health Canada to use the vaccine developed for the U.S. Department of Defence, although it was not approved for use by the general public.

Despite concerns about the manufacturer and possible adverse side effects, in the spring of 1998, on the heels of a similar directive within the U.S. military, the Canadian Forces made the anthrax immunization mandatory for troops serving in Kuwait.

Many soldiers refused the inoculation, citing concerns of a link with so-called Gulf War syndrome.

Canada later discontinued the vaccination.

The U.S. Department of Defence, at the behest of a U.S. district court, discontinued in October 2004.

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