Posted on Thu, Jul. 01, 2004

Pentagon expands vaccination policy

Because more vaccine is available, the Defense Department says, more soldiers will be inoculated against anthrax and smallpox.

New York Times

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon announced a major expansion of its vaccination program Wednesday with a new order requiring that anthrax and smallpox vaccine be administered to all U.S. forces and essential civilians in the Middle East and, for the first time, to troops in South Korea.

Pentagon officials said the decision announced Wednesday resulted from an increased supply of vaccine, and not from an increased threat of biological attack.

The Pentagon said it had given anthrax shots to 1.1 million people since 1998, and since December 2002 more than 625,000 Pentagon and military personnel have been vaccinated against smallpox.

In January, a federal judge lifted an injunction halting the military's mandatory anthrax vaccination program, allowing the Pentagon to resume giving shots to any personnel except the six people who brought the lawsuit. They have all remained anonymous.

The plaintiffs argued that the vaccine had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against skin exposure to anthrax -- but not against anthrax that is inhaled, the far greater battlefield threat.

Thus, the judge said, the vaccine was an "investigational" drug being forced on the troops for an unapproved purpose.

On Dec. 30, the FDA declared the anthrax vaccine effective against the inhaled form of the bacteria.

Some troops deployed to the Middle East have received the vaccines. Now, everyone sent to the area managed by U.S. Central Command -- which stretches from North Africa to Pakistan -- will be required to take them, unless doctors determine the vaccines pose a serious risk to them.

Defense Department contractors and civilian employees deemed essential will also be required to take the vaccines. Nonessential contractors and civilians have the option of taking them, as do family members of soldiers, contractors and civilian employees who live in the affected regions.