- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002


The Pentagon wants to abandon its policy of anthrax vaccinations for all troops and limit shots to those with the highest risk, officials said yesterday.

A planned announcement of the new policy two weeks ago was delayed because of questions about how much vaccine American civilians might need in case of a bioterrorist attack.

In attempting to rebuild a program hobbled for two years by a drug shortage, officials are mulling such issues as intelligence assessments, dosing requirements and other national security considerations, said Jim Turner, Pentagon spokesman on health issues.

The program was started in 1998 to vaccinate all 2.4 million members of the active and reserve military but was radically reduced after factory violations by the nation's sole anthrax vaccine manufacturer left the Pentagon with a dwindling supply.

In addition, there was strong reluctance by some soldiers to take the shots.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared Lansing, Mich.-based BioPort's manufacturing plant in January to produce the vaccine and release 500,000 doses already made.

After a three-month study on how to rebuild the program, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld last month approved a plan to set aside the original policy of vaccinating the whole force, according to officials who have seen it.

The plan now is to vaccinate only those at risk and not disclose who they would be for security reasons, officials said. The thinking is that would-be attackers would not know which troops are protected.

As for American civilians, health officials have said there's no need for them to have the anthrax vaccine unless there is an attack.

President Bush's Homeland Security Office is trying to figure out how much vaccine might be needed for police, firefighters, rescue squads and others who would be "first responders" to any attack in the United States.

The Pentagon postponed its planned announcement on the military program after homeland security officials said there wasn't enough known about the needs of this group, estimated at some 2 million, officials said.

The Pentagon shared vaccine with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall, when five persons died and 13 were sickened by anthrax-laced letters.

Postal workers and Senate employees received protective antibiotics in case they had been exposed to anthrax. After 60 days of treatment, medical specialists offered them choices of continuing antibiotics, adding vaccinations or ending treatment.

CDC requested vaccine and the Pentagon gave it 320,000 doses, Mr. Turner said.

Believing Iraq and other nations had produced anthrax weapons, then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen in 1997 ordered the immunization of the armed forces.

Shots started in 1998 for soldiers at the highest risk the Persian Gulf, then Korea then moved beyond. As the vaccine shortage developed, the military scaled back, eliminating troops on the way home from deployments, then those in South Korea and lastly those in the Gulf.

For two years the vaccine has been reserved for troops on special missions and for researchers.

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