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Anthrax Shot Returns to Base (Dover AFB)

Anthrax shot returns to base
By Kate House-Layton, Delaware State News

DOVER — Dover Air Force Base is again vaccinating its members for anthrax.

The military-wide mandatory immunization program started March 19 at Dover after a three-year hiatus due to federal questions about the vaccine’s effectiveness.

All “uniformed personnel, emergency-essential and equivalent civilian employees” who are assigned for at least 15 consecutive days to the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia or U.S. Forces in Korea are required to take the shot, U.S. Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said.

Those assigned to “special units with biowarfare- or bioterrorism-related missions and other specially designated units,” also are required to take the shots, Ms. Smith said.

The latest round of shots troubles retired Dover Air Force Base Lt. Col. Jay Lacklen. The Dover resident, who was in charge of the 326th Airlift Squadron in 1999, hasn’t forgotten the health problems he and fellow airmen at the Dover base suffered when the shots were given in the late 1990s or how 55 out of the 120 reserve pilots he supervised left his unit at the Dover base to avoid the shots. “I don’t know how many will leave to avoid the shot this time,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Defense announced its plan in October to bring back the shot program military-wide. In February, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs approved service implementation plans, the military’s Anthrax Vaccination Information Program Web site said. The vaccine is given in a six-shot series over an 18-month period. The first three shots are administered within two weeks of each other, then two more after a couple of months and a yearly booster.

Dover Air Force Base spokeswoman Lt. Christine Sukach said the base could not say how many vaccines have been given locally since the program returned because it is a readiness indicator for airmen deployed in high threat areas.

The DOD, however, has vaccinated more than 1.5 million people worldwide with more than 5.7 million vaccine doses since 1998, she said. DOD’s vaccination program started in 1998. The shots stopped in 2004 after several service members filed a suit in the U.S. District Court of Washington and a federal judge placed an injunction against the anthrax vaccination program. The judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration made mistakes in its decision about the vaccine’s effectiveness against anthrax inhalation. The FDA then declared it safe for inhalation anthrax in 2005.

The Pentagon has repeatedly said the vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and it was proven safe and effective.

The vaccine itself doesn’t concern Lt. Col. Lacklen. His biggest concern is whether the latest round of shots contain squalene, an agent that he said was added to the vaccine to boost its effectiveness in the ’90s. Studies, he said, point to squalene as the source of various autoimmune disorders, which includes muscle and joint pain, heart and breathing problems among other things. The squalene, he said, was in five of the first 50 lot numbers in 1999. The military, he said, refuses to test for it. He also said the product insert that accompanies every vaccine package lists a string of autoimmune disorders that occur coincidentally with the shots. The military does not talk about the product insert, he said.

Ms. Smith said it is a myth that the military added squalene to the anthrax vaccine. “Food and Drug Administration scientists found trace quantities of squalene in anthrax, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines — less than the natural level of squalene in the human bloodstream. The FDA notes that these minute quantities could have come from processing during FDA tests. Squalene is present in the oil in fingerprints.

Lt. Col. Lacklen disagrees with this explanation. “Is it still contaminated?” he asked. “Are they testing to see if its still contaminated?”

The AVIP Web site also said the squalene present in anthrax vaccine probably comes from the bacteria used to make the vaccine. Lt. Col. Lacklen said according to a Tulane University study, there is no squalene in anthrax bacteria. DOD also has said anthrax is still used as a bioweapon against U.S. soldiers which makes the vaccine necessary. Lt. Col. Lacklen disagrees. “There’s been no anthrax threat evident overseas,” Lt. Col. Lacklen said. “The issue is (the military is) conducting a surreptitious experiment on the troops by using the illegal additive that boosts the effect of the vaccine. “They can’t explain how the booster got in there in 1999 and they can’t explain if it is still in there now. And that is the cause for concern. “They can’t answer the questions. Yet even though they can’t answer the questions they’re still going to order their people to take the shot and I find that unconscionable.”

Lt. Sukach said per DOD’s instruction that all the Dover base’s airmen have received briefings from their commanders regarding the resumption of the AVIP and informational brochures regarding the vaccine have been made available to them.

“While any specific concerns regarding the vaccine would be covered under Privacy Act restrictions, I can tell you that our airmen are educated about the vaccine and if they have concerns, we have subject matter experts at the base and within the Air Force who can address those with them,” she said.

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Staff writer Kate House-Laytoncan be reached at 741-8242 or khouse@newszap.com