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51st MDG answers anthrax questions

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The Pentagon announced it plans to once again start requiring anthrax vaccinations for servicemembers heading into high threat regions. However, the 51st Medical Group is continuing the current voluntary program until the U.S. Air Force, Pacific Air Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea provide their policies for resuming mandatory vaccinations. 

The Air Force and the medical community have consistently proven the vaccine is both safe and effective, with more than 4 million doses delivered to military members. We continue to strongly encourage active-duty members assigned at Osan to get and continue their anthrax vaccinations. It is the best form of protection. 

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions/concerns that Airmen may have: 

Who will this "restart" of the program affect?
Military, emergency-essential Department of Defense civilians and contractors currently stationed, deployed or about to deploy to high threat areas such as the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility or the Republic of Korea. 

When will the program restart?
It could take anywhere from 30 days to four to five months for the program to restart. Each service has to wait to receive guidance from higher headquarters before proceeding. 

Is the anthrax program still voluntary? 
Yes. While personnel are encouraged to receive the vaccine, it has not yet become mandatory. 

Does the restart of this program have anything to do with the situation occurring in North Korea?
No, the two are wholly separate issues. The restart of the program is related to resolution of some legal issues the FDA was involved with related to the manufacture of the vaccine. Earlier this year, the FDA announced those issues were resolved. 

Why is South Korea considered a high-threat area?
Because North Korea is suspected of possessing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and may use them against U.S. troops. 

How serious is the disease anthrax?
As the "white powder" incidents in Washington, D.C., Florida, and New York during the fall of 2001 showed, anthrax can be quite deadly. Inhalational anthrax can occur when inhaling as few as 5,000-6,000 anthrax spores, perhaps in a single deep breath. Initial symptoms may develop in one to six days, and resemble the common cold or flu: sore throat, mild fever, muscle aches, and tiredness. Mild symptoms can progress very rapidly after a few days to severe breathing problems and shock; if left untreated, the death rate exceeds 99 percent. Even when treated aggressively in a state-of-the-art hospital, once severe symptoms develop 45 percent to 80 percent of patients die.
Couldn't I just be put on antibiotics if I was exposed to anthrax? Why do I need a shot?
Antibiotics work best to prevent symptoms if given to a person within 24-48 hours after a known exposure. The problem lies in knowing exactly when you were exposed. Unlike a chemical attack, a biological attack may not be obvious until people start becoming ill. The vaccine, along with wearing your gas mask, will provide you the best protection in a wartime situation. The vaccine protects you 24/7 whether you are aware of an exposure or not. 

Why does anthrax require six shots? Other vaccines that I've taken don't need as many.
This is how the vaccine was originally licensed for use by the Food and Drug Administration in the 1970s. This dosing schedule has been shown to be effective over the years following accidental exposures to anthrax. Until new studies can assess the effectiveness of other dosing schedules, the current schedule will likely remain in effect for those receiving the FDA approved vaccine. 

How safe is the vaccine?
The anthrax vaccine used by the military has been licensed in the United States since 1970. Since 1998, more than 1.3 million DoD personnel have received the anthrax vaccine, well over 4 million doses, with very few ill effects. The most common side effects are temporary pain or swelling at the site of injection. If you feel ill after receiving an anthrax shot, you should contact your primary care manager immediately.
I've had a couple of anthrax shots already. When the program resumes, will I have to start the vaccine series all over again?
No. You'll resume the shots where you left off. 

Where can I go for more information?
Online, visit either http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/needtoknow.asp (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) or the Military Vaccine (MILVAX) Agency Web sites at either http://www.anthrax.mil or www.vaccines.mil. You may also contact the Immunizations clinic at 784-2523 or the Public Health Office at 784-4494. 

The anthrax vaccination is a very important force protection tool we have available to ensure we are always Ready to Fight Tonight. Although the program may return to a mandatory program, it is currently voluntary. We encourage every active-duty member to stay current with this vaccination as this has proven itself safe and effective.