- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The Defense Department's anthrax immunization program has hurt the Pentagon's ability to retain pilots and aircrew for the National Guard and reserves, the General Accounting Office said yesterday.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded in a report that a "significant number" of pilots and aircrew members who received the required anthrax immunization vaccine cited the program as a major factor in reducing their participation in Guard and reserve activities or leaving military service altogether.
"Anthrax is a serious threat that our soldiers might face on the battlefield," said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which requested the study.
"At the same time, this vaccine has been controversial, and it has caused serious reactions in some individuals," he said. "The Defense Department needs to do a better job giving accurate information to our military personnel so they can make informed decisions."
Anthrax is one of the bacterial agents most readily available to terrorists and U.S. enemy states worldwide.
Five persons across the nation died from exposure to anthrax-laced letters. More than a year later, the government has yet to make an arrest in the case. The FBI has consistently maintained that the investigation is on track and that thousands of leads have been pursued by a task force of investigators.
The GAO, in reaching its conclusion, investigated the views of pilots and other aircrew members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
Investigators said an estimated 37 percent of the pilots and aircrew members surveyed had received one or more anthrax shots as of September 2000 and that of those recipients, 85 percent reported experiencing some type of adverse reaction, displaying symptoms such as redness, itching, chills, fever, nausea and dizziness.
At the time of the inquiry, the GAO said, two-thirds of the sample survey did not support the anthrax vaccine program nor any future immunization programs planned for other biological warfare agents.
"Now more than ever, an experienced and well-trained military is critical," Mr. Burton said. "I hope the DOD will take the GAO's recommendations seriously and direct the establishment of an active surveillance program to identify and monitor adverse events associated" with the program. The DOD is the Defense Department.
From March 1998 and March 2002, more than 525,000 U.S. military personnel were vaccinated against anthrax.
The Defense Department has sought to immunize all 2.4 million service members by 2004, at a cost of $130 million. The immunization series calls for six injections of the vaccine over a period of 18 months, followed by annual booster shots.
The U.S. military is the only force in the world requiring all its military troops to take the anthrax vaccinations.
Concerns have also been raised about the vaccine's effectiveness against massive doses of weaponized anthrax anticipated in an intentional biological warfare attack. In addition, the only FDA-approved manufacturer, the Michigan Biologic Products Institute, has repeatedly been cited for quality control problems.
The Anthrax Vaccine Expert Committee, a civilian panel of physicians and scientists set up to monitor the safety of the vaccinations, concluded in a report in April that the vaccinations over a two-year period had not shown a high frequency or unusual pattern of serious reactions.
The committee said that when it reviewed and medically evaluated 602 reports of adverse reactions, it concluded that the number was not excessive and that no deaths had been reported.

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