According to the Pentagon, the military is running so short on usable doses of
the anthrax vaccine that not all troops operating in high-threat areas of Korea and the
Persian Gulf may receive their shots.
By Barbara Starr
W A S H I N G T O N, July 10, 2000
The Pentagon is expected to announce that it is, for the first time, cutting back its controversial program to inoculate all military personnel against the deadly anthrax biological warfare agent because of a shortage of the vaccine. According to the Pentagon, the military is running so short on usable doses of the anthrax vaccine that not all troops operating in high threat areas of Korea and the Persian Gulf may receive their shots. The Pentagon has been running out of usable doses and had been conducting reliability tests on one of the last lots, about 190,000 doses, that have been in storage for some years.
Known as FAV022, it had already failed reliability testing once, and it became apparent to officials over the last few days that the batch would not pass the latest test and the standards of the Food and Drug Administration. They don't have enough supply to continue at our present rate without risking running out of vaccine, Maj. Gen. Randy West said. They certainly don't think its positive that we have to make a slowdown announcement.? Select Few To Receive Shots The Pentagon also attributes the vaccine shortage to plodding construction of its new BioPort production plant in Michigan, the only U.S. facility that makes the anthrax vaccine. The production plant is not expected to gain FDA certification until August at the earliest and would not be able to have a new vaccine ready until January. The reliability test is conducted by injecting guinea pigs with the vaccine in three separate strength levels, according to the Pentagon. Then the animals are exposed to anthrax. The ones receiving the strongest dose are supposed to live, and those receiving the weakest dose are expected to die.
With the failure of the last batch of the vaccine, only about 100,000 usable doses remain on the shelf. Defense Secretary William Cohen, who rejected the temporary suspension of the anthrax vaccination program, is expected to make a final decision Tuesday which soldiers will receive the remaining shots. At the current rate of usage, about 75,000 doses per month, the suspension would be almost immediate. Approximately 450,000 have been given some of the six shots administered in the anthrax vaccine; approximately 1.8 million have received the full series of shots. All troops deployed in high threat areas are supposed to receive the full series of shots. There is a strategic reserve in the event of war, which cannot be used routinely.
Congress is scheduled to hold two days of hearings on the anthrax vaccination program beginning July 12.
Although hundreds of thousands of doses have been successfully administered, a group of highly vocal soldiers, sailors, and airman have refused to take the shot and instead faced discharge, claiming the vaccine is unsafe. Some have faced court-martial hearings. A History of Anthrax 1897 - Robert Koch is the first scientist to grow anthrax, a natural disease lethal to animals and humans, in a lab.
1970 - The FDA approves an anthrax vaccine for humans who might be exposed to animals carrying the disease, such as textile mill workers who handle contaminated wool.
January 1991 - More than 150,000 U.S. troops fighting in the Persian Gulf are inoculated against anthrax. Some Gulf War veterans have blamed the vaccine in part for the mysterious Gulf War syndrome, but no connection has been proved.
Aug. 6, 1991 - Iraq admits it was experimenting with anthrax as a biological weapon to be used in the Gulf War, but there? no evidence it was actually used in the field.
March 1997 - The Michigan Biologic Products Institute, now BioPort Corp., the sole maker of the anthrax vaccine, is cited by the FDA for improperly storing packaging materials. Over the next three years, the company comes under criticism for slow production of vaccines and for periodically demanding more money from the government to stay afloat.
May 18, 1998 - Defense Secretary William Cohen mandates that all active-duty and reserve military personnel get a six-shot, 18-month course of inoculation against anthrax.
January 1999 - U.S. Air Force Reserve Airman 1st Class Jeff Bettendorf refuses to be inoculated against anthrax. He is demoted and eventually discharged.
March 1999 - More military personnel refuse to take the anthrax vaccine, including 11 California Air Force Reserve pilots, two dozen Marines in Japan, and 23 sailors.
April 1999 - A preliminary study from the General Accounting Office says the vaccine has never been tested for long-term safety and that its effectiveness is also in question.
July 1999 - Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., introduces a bill to halt the vaccinations. The Pentagon says the vaccine is safe. By now, 200 troops have refused to take the vaccine.
Feb. 17, 2000 - A congressional panel says the Pentagon should halt the vaccinations and deems the anthrax vaccine experimental because its effectiveness against biological warfare is uncertain. Pentagon officials continue with the vaccinations, saying the vaccine is safe and anthrax is fatal.
April 14, 2000 - More than two years after the vaccination campaign was announced, only 420,000 of the 2.4 million military service members have completed the course of vaccination.
May 16, 2000 - Twenty-eight House members issue a letter asking the Department of Defense to stop the inoculations. By now, 570,000 service members have been immunized.
June 30, 2000 - The Department of Defense may have to suspend the inoculations.
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