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Anthrax vaccine is back

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. (Dr.) Greg Kahrs
  • 22nd Aeromedical-Dental Squadron, flight medicine chief
The anthrax vaccine is back and is once again mandatory for all personnel assigned to:

- Central Command area of responsibility for more than 15 days.
- Korean Peninsula for more than 15 days.
- Special units with bio warfare or bio terrorism related missions.
- Specialty units with approved exception to policy.

The current Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program calls for resumption of the anthrax vaccine to personal listed above, both Department of Defense servicemen and civilians. The 22nd Medical Group will resume administering the vaccine March 16 to all personnel who are within 60 days of travel to Korea or the military area of responsibility.

The vaccine is also available on a voluntary basis for everyone who has begun the series in the past but not completed it, in which case the series resumes where left off and does not have to be restarted. It is also available to adult family members who will be residing in the AOR or on the Korean Peninsula for more than 15 days. The series consists of six injections given at zero, two and four weeks, and six, 12 and 18 months with an annual booster given afterward.

The anthrax vaccine has been a political hot potato for sometime now. The concern by some was that there was a connection between the vaccine and Gulf War Syndrome. As a result, an independent civilian committee of experts was convened to research the issue. Their findings stated the anthrax vaccine is safe and effective and has absolutely no relationship to GWS. In fact, when compared to all other commonly given vaccines such as tetanus, influenza and polio, the anthrax vaccine has a comparable safety record. The most common side effect of the vaccine maybe soreness or swelling and a temporary lump at the injection site about 10 to 30 percent of the time. One may also experience mild body aches or mild headaches about 20 percent of the time. Less than one in 100,000 people will have a severe reaction to the vaccine.

On the other hand, the risk of an anthrax attack is real. Anthrax is one of the most commonly weaponized biological agents in the world, and a significant amount of agent is available for use by both foreign and domestic enemies. There are three forms of the infection; skin, intestinal and pulmonary (lungs). All three are very serious with the pulmonary infection being the most severe and almost uniformly fatal in an unsuspecting and unvaccinated person. The truth of the matter is the world is unsafe, and defenders of America cannot afford to be unprepared for what may lay ahead.

The anthrax vaccine has been in use as an Federal Drug Administration approved vaccine since 1970 and is the best defense against an anthrax attack. It has been proven to be safe and effective time and again, and it is once again mandatory for those who have been called to serve.