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Mandatory anthrax vaccinations to resume

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Dr. David S. Chu, Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, signed "Implementation of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program (AVIP)," Dec. 6.

Dr. Chu's memo makes anthrax vaccinations mandatory for military personnel, emergency/mission-essential DoD civilians and contractors serving for more than 15 consecutive days in either Korea or U.S. Central Command. Each service has 45 days to draft their own anthrax implementation plans prior to resumption of mandatory vaccinations. For Team Osan, that may mean formal implementation as early as January.

Despite the new guidance, the vaccine will remain voluntary for the following groups:

- Military members serving in areas other than Korea and Central Command
- U.S. government civilian employees and U.S. citizen contractors serving in Korea or Central Command but not considered emergency-essential

- Adult family members 18-65 years of age accompanying DoD military or U.S. civilian and contractor personnel for 15 or more consecutive days to Korea or Central Command

Anthrax vaccine has been licensed by the FDA in the United States to prevent anthrax since November 1970. During this period, Anthrax vaccine has been safely administered to veterinarians, laboratory workers and livestock handlers. Since March 1998, more than 5.2 million doses have been given to more than 1.3 million DoD personnel.

There are three types of anthrax infections: cutaneous, gastrointestinal, and inhalation. Inhalation anthrax can occur when inhaling as few as 5000-6000 anthrax spores(6,000 spores can fit on the head of a pin). Initial symptoms may develop in 1-6 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, death rate exceeds 99 percent. Even when treated aggressively in a state-of-the-art hospital center, once severe symptoms develop, 45-80 percent of patients could die. In contrast, laboratory studies have shown 95 percent of monkeys who received one or two doses of anthrax vaccine remained healthy after being exposed to inhalation anthrax (similar studies have not been done on humans due to ethical concerns). However, even though antibodies may develop in the blood after a couple of shots, the entire six-shot series is needed for full protection.

The threat to military personnel from anthrax is very real. Because of its deadliness, inhalation anthrax is also the most likely type of biological agent U.S. adversaries may choose to weaponize and use against our personnel. With the North Korean threat just to our north, preparedness is vital to maintain our ability to "Fight Tonight!"

Although many servicemembers experience temporary pain or soreness at the injection site, most individuals experience no significant reaction. The anthrax vaccine series consists of six shots given at 0, 2, and 4 weeks and then at 6, 12, and 18 months. Following the initial six-shot series, members only require annual boosters. No shots are ever repeated in the series, rather members will receive the next shot they are due based on the last shot they received in the series.

Vaccination is the only round-the-clock protection available for servicemembers against this very real threat. Antibiotics do work after exposure, but cannot be given over a long period of time. Nuclear, Biological and Chemical masks also provide a level of protection if ample warning is available and our military personnel are prepared.

Mass immunizations are currently planned for Osan in 2007. In the meantime, individuals are encouraged to voluntarily visit the 51st Medical Group immunizations clinic to receive their anthrax shot. Anthrax vaccinations are still voluntary, but will soon be mandatory again. Individuals who wait until the mandatory vaccination program is implemented will delay their effort to become fully protected against anthrax and truly "Ready to Fight Tonight."

For more information about the vaccine and policy, visit the Military Vaccine Agency at www.anthrax.mil or www.vaccines.mil. For additional information, contact the immunizations clinic at 784-2523 or public health at 784-4494/2515.