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Anthrax Vaccine To Be Mandatory for CENTCOM


Policy applies to servicemembers, others in Central Command ops areas 15 or more days.

By Army Sgt. Timothy DinneenRegional Command-East Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, May 14, 2007 — “Imagine a very slowly descending escalator that you’re climbing,” said Army Capt. Remington Nevin, preventive medicine physician, Combined Joint Task Force-82. “Once you’ve completed your six dosage series you are as protected as you can be at the top of the escalator.”

Nevin’s analogy describes the recent CENTCOM policy mandating all servicemembers working in the CENTCOM area of operations for 15 or more consecutive days receive an anthrax vaccination. This mandatory vaccination extends to key Department of Defense contractors and certain civilian employees.

“We administer this because anthrax has been, and still constitutes, a real threat to forces,” Nevin said.

Anthrax is caused by bacteria and brings about three types of diseases: skin, gastrointestinal and inhalation. Inhaled anthrax is the most deadly form with a 99 percent mortality rate, according to http://www.anthrax.mil.

“We administer anthrax vaccines to our personnel to protect them from the threat of inhalation,” Nevin explained. “A threat we know has existed certainly since October 2001.”
The Food and Drug Administration schedule for the anthrax vaccine is six doses given during 18 months plus one dose annually as a booster. Each dose builds on the immune response from earlier doses. Without vaccination, troops would be more vulnerable to anthrax infection.

“Most soldiers here at Bagram will require two to three anthrax vaccinations in the first month of the program we start,” Nevin said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, servicemembers will not have to restart their series of dosages if they miss subsequent vaccination appointments; they will simply pick up where they left off. This includes troops who started the anthrax series voluntarily years ago and stopped.

“The dose can be delayed however long it takes until the soldier gets back to the clinic,” Nevin said. “You don’t want to space the dosages closer together than schedule permits but you can space them out.”

Nevin said this is a bio-weapon vaccine, designed to protect servicemembers from the threat of a biological agent that has been intentionally weaponized.

“We believe this vaccine will protect against the strains of anthrax most likely used against us,” Nevin proclaimed. “This vaccine was used effectively against the October 2001 anthrax attack in the U.S.”

Nevin said the anthrax vaccine is completely safe and effective.

“To my knowledge there have been no deaths linked to the receipt of the anthrax vaccine,” Nevin said.

The most common reactions are local side effects such as fever, general body aches and soreness around the shot area and resolve themselves in a few days, according to Nevin. He said they are easily managed with over-the-counter pain killers and rest.

“We anticipate soldiers will receive the vaccine through the medical facilities organic to their own task forces,” Nevin said. “The threat of anthrax is real and the health and safety of personnel is the primary concern of the program.”

Once soldiers reach the top of the “escalator” and are fully protected, they can make their descent back down mirroring their level of protection when leaving the CENTCOM area of operations. All they’ll need is a booster shot to climb back up again.