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The Anthrax Vaccination

The anthrax vaccination is the only known defense available for United States Troops against the deadly anthrax virus. Many experts have said it is not effective against inhalation anthrax. Studies have not been conclusive in their findings. The chance of living if you have received the anthrax vaccination seems better. More studies should be conducted outside the Department of Defense, with their cooperation, before the process to vaccinate troops continues. Anthrax is a disease normally associated with plant eating animals (sheep, goats, and cattle) caused by the bacterium Bacillius anthracis.

It is now controlled through vaccination programs throughout the world including the United States. Human infection with anthrax usually results from contact with infected animals or products. Anthrax was discovered by Robert Koch in 1876. An effective vaccine for animals was developed in 1881 by Louis Pasteur. In humans, the disease appears in both external and internal forms. The external form is contracted through cuts and breaks in the skin. The internal form is caught by inhaling anthrax spores, which invade the lungs and intestinal tract (Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 1996).

Russian scientists have created a new form of the anthrax virus by genetic engineering. Col. Arthur Friedlander , chief of the bacteriology division at the U. S. Army Medical Research Institute states, The evidence that they presented suggested that it could be resistant to our vaccine (Riechman, Army Times 03-09-98). When anthrax is used as a biological weapon, people become infected by breathing the spores released in the air. Anthrax is 100,000 times deadlier than the deadliest chemical warfare agent. It is the preferred biological agent because it is easy to produce in bulk and the materials are low in cost.

Dr. Jose Ramero Cruz, of the World Health Organization states,Because anthrax spores are resistant to dryness and heat, they are relatively easy to grind and store. U. S. officials say that as many as 12 countries including Russia, Iraq, and North Korea, have established capabilities to produce and load deadly anthrax spores into weapons (D. Funk, Army Times, 3-19-98). An anthrax loaded scud missile could kill 100,000 people in an urban area according to a 1993 study, Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the Risks, (J. Erlich, Army Times, 9-8-97).

No country is known to have released the biological agent during wartime. Anthrax has the potential to cover large areas of the battlefield. It is not known what branch of service, front line, or rear area troops would be at greater risks. Defense Secretary William Cohen stated, Anthrax is the poor mans atomic bomb (D. Funk, Army Times,1-12-98). The anthrax vaccine is used to protect against anthrax. It contains only dead organisms. Human vaccination was developed in England and the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The vaccination was licensed and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1970. The vaccination is produced by Michigan Biologic Products Institute located in Lansing, Michigan. It has been administered to veterinarians, laboratory workers, and livestock handlers safely for over twenty five years (D. Funk, Army Times, 8-31-98). The anthrax vaccination prevents illness by stimulating the bodys natural disease fighting abilities. It has not been proven whether the vaccination will work against inhaled anthrax.

The informational insert that usually comes with the vaccine could not be obtained. I did find that according to the Michigan Department of Public Health in Lansing, Michigan there are no references for using the vaccine for inhaled anthrax (Joyce, AGWVA). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry H. Shelton says we have stockpiled a safe and effective vaccine to protect our forces against anthrax (DefenseLINK a. , 18June98).

There are many views and arguments to this statement. One that may not be resolved until further research can be done or anthrax is used against roops who have received the vaccination. Almost all cases of inhalation anthrax in which treatment was started after symptoms began, have resulted in death, regardless of treatment afterwards. Being vaccinated greatly increases your chances of surviving an exposure to anthrax. Without the vaccination or protection (MOPP gear) it has a ninety-nine percent death rate to unprotected persons (PROMED (03) PRO/AH). From this point of view, it would beneficial to receive the vaccination. Since 1970, there have been no known long term side effects associated with the anthrax vaccination.

Reported side effects to the vaccine are mostly limited to local reactions. They include, sore arm, redness, and slight swelling at the injection site in 30 percent of recipients. Severe local reactions such as swelling that may extend from the elbow to the forearm are rare (Arnot Ogden Medical Center, 1998). Minor adverse reactions can include, but are not limited to flu like symptoms. Out of 133,870 immunizations, only seven (. 005 percent) severe reaction cases have been reported. Six were found to be minor effects and all service members were returned to duty.

Only one service member had a more severe illness (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) that occurred after receiving his third dose of anthrax vaccination. He began recovery one month after onset of the illness (D. Funk, Army Times, 8-31-98). No studies have been conducted to determine if the anthrax vaccination causes cancer, induces genetic mutation, impairs fertility, or causes fetal harm ( Joyce, AGWVA). Service members have already begun the immunization process against anthrax. Phase I of the immunization process began with all service members expected to be going to a high threat area on August 16, 1998.

Those already in Korea will begin September 9,1998. Service members serving in the Persian Gulf began in early March of 1998. About 48,000 have begun the series. Phase II will be for units first to deploy (XVIII Airborne Corps and subordinate units) in the event of a military incident. It is scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2000. Phase III will include the remaining forces and new recruits by fiscal year 2003. All 2,400,000 active duty, reserve, and national guard members will be vaccinated (D. Funk, Army Times,8-31-98).

All service members will be required to take the vaccination as stated in Department of Defense Directive 6205. 3 unless medically deferred. Some examples of soldiers who will be deferred are pregnant soldiers, and soldiers who are HIV positive. Family members will not be required to receive the vaccination and there is no plan to vaccinate them at this time. Withdrawing them from the region will be the first resort ( DefenseLINK a. 18JUN98). The majority of service members that have been required to receive the vaccination have done it. Sixteen service members, 14 Navy, and 2 Air Force have refused to ake the vaccination.

Two sailors have been discharged and the rest have received disciplinary action. A Fort Stewart, Georgia soldier is facing a probable discharge after choosing to go AWOL rather than take the required series of shots. It is conceivable that the number of refusals could rise when the program spreads to troops who dont feel an immediate threat said Secretary of Defense William H. Cowan (D. Funk, Army Times, 8-31-98). A total of six vaccinations will be administered in order for the series to be complete. Three vaccinations will be given 2 weeks apart from each other initially.

It will be followed by 3 additional vaccinations given at 6, 12, and 18 months. A booster shot annually will be given afterwards (ProMED(03), PRO/AH). While the entire vaccination series is 6 shots, military officials think it is possible service members dont need that many shots. Research to determine that is continuing, said Rear Admiral Michael Cowan, deputy director of medical readiness for the Joint Staff. Until we know for certain that it is safer to give fewer shots, well go with standardization, approved series,he said (D. Funk, Army Times, 8-31-98).

The cost to immunize an estimated 2,400,000 military personnel will be approximately 130,000,000 million dollars(DefenseLINK News 8-14-98). The estimated 130,000,000 dollars needed to vaccinate all active duty, reserve, and national guard forces against anthrax is wasted money, said Victor Sidel, a physician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Noble Peace Prize. It is a snare and delusion, said Sidel of troops taking the vaccination.

Theres very kind of evidence that this material is ineffective against the strains that are likely to be used. And there is evidence that the material causes adverse reactions (D. Reichman, Army Times, 3-9-98). In conclusion, the best believed defense available to the United States military is the anthrax vaccination. Studies against the vaccination have not been conclusive enough to persuade me to trust this vaccination 100 percent. It should be handed down to an independent research team outside the Department of Defense for further study. If the choice was mine to make today, I would not take the vaccination.

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