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 Anthrax Shots Needle Troops, Protection Is Upshot
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
        FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- "Do I have to take this shot?" is 
the question service members most often ask about the new 
DoD anthrax mass-vaccination program. It comes up, too, 
during discussions of Gulf War illnesses. The first 
inoculations were given to American troops during the Gulf 
War. 
        The current plan to immunize every soldier, sailor, 
airman and Marine answers another question military leaders 
have asked since the war: "How can we better protect our men 
and women against weapons of mass destruction?"
        Besides wondering if they have to get the series of six 
anthrax shots -- the answer is yes, it's a legal binding 
order -- service members also wonder how safe the vaccine 
is.
        "It was approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug 
Administration] 28 years ago," Army Dr. (Col.) Francis 
O'Donnell, said here June 17. He is the medical adviser to 
Bernard Rostker, DoD's special assistant on Gulf War 
illnesses.
        O'Donnell said questions about anthrax often come up at 
meetings to share information with veterans of the Gulf War 
and to seek input for the department's investigation.
        "The anthrax vaccination is safe and effective," he 
said. "You'll probably get a little soreness in the arm, is 
all."
        Although the FDA has approved a six-shot series of 
anthrax inoculations for maximum protection, primate tests 
and a shortage of the vaccine in 1990-91 spurred DoD to give 
Persian Gulf-bound troops fewer shots. According to 
O'Donnell, 1990 tests on primates showed that just two shots 
provided well over 50 percent protection against airborne 
anthrax spores. Based on test results, DoD then vaccinated 
some 150,000 Persian Gulf-bound service members. 
        "We had neither the quantities of anthrax vaccine 
needed nor the time required to administer the full 
regimen," O'Donnell said. "With the encouraging evidence 
from the primate studies, we felt pretty good about being 
able to use two shots and give as much protection to as many 
people as possible."
        In December 1997, DoD announced plans to inoculate all 
service members -- including future recruits -- with the 
six-shot regimen. The course of shots requires 18 months to 
complete. "But in the long term," O'Donnell said, "we'll 
have a force that at all times is protected."
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