Sheppard resumes anthrax immunizations

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Richard Devereaux
  • 82nd Training Wing commander
The current policy.

The Department of Defense, through Headquarters Air Force and Headquarters Air Education and Training Command, directed the resumption of the mandatory Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program effective Feb. 22. The decision to resume mandatory immunizations for specific military, emergency essential, and mission essential contract personnel was based upon the continuing threat anthrax poses as a biological weapon and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Over the next few weeks commanders will conduct a base-wide education campaign on the provisions of the current AVIP program.

Why were anthrax immunizations previously stopped?

In October 2004, a U.S. District Court order stopped the DoD anthrax vaccination program due to a legal challenge of the Food and Drug Administration's administrative process used in 2003 to approve the vaccine for protection against inhalation anthrax.

The legal challenge and court order had nothing to do with the safety of the vaccine. The order was strictly related to the failure of the FDA to follow its own administrative requirements, specifically the requirement for a public comment period prior to changing the labeling of a vaccine.

During this period, the DoD petitioned to use the anthrax vaccine under an "emergency use authorization" on a voluntary basis. These voluntary immunizations began in April 2005. Since then, thousands of voluntary vaccinations have been safely administered.

Now that the FDA has complied with their regulatory requirements and the vaccine has been proven effective against all forms of anthrax, the DoD is resuming mandatory anthrax immunizations to ensure the safety and protection of our troops.

Why do we need an anthrax vaccine?

Cutaneous (skin) anthrax is the most common, naturally occurring form of anthrax. The anthrax vaccine was developed for, and approved by the FDA, to prevent cutaneous anthrax. It has been used for that purpose since the 1970s.

The DoD, based on classified intelligence, recognized the biological warfare threat related to inhalation anthrax and began the mandatory vaccination of military personnel with the currently available anthrax vaccine in 1998. Studies indicate the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing both cutaneous and inhalation anthrax. Studies of real world anthrax exposures have shown that without vaccination or antibiotic treatment, nearly 99 percent of those exposed to anthrax via the inhalation route will die.

Who must get the vaccination?

The anthrax vaccine is now mandatory for all military personnel, emergency essential civilian and mission-essential contract personnel who will be deployed to U.S. Central Command or the Korean Peninsula for 15 days or more. The goal is to have 90 percent of the mandatory population vaccinated by April 30. Immunizations will be provided by the 82nd Medical Group's immunizations clinic during normal business hours 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. We will begin providing immunizations once we complete our initial education campaign and receive approval to proceed from HQ AETC.

Who may get the vaccination voluntarily?

The vaccine will also be offered to active duty military personnel, civilian employees and other approved personnel who received at least one dose of vaccine since March 1998. Those who started the series previously will continue from where they left off and are not required to restart. The current approved dosing schedule is zero, two and four weeks then at six, 12 and 18 months with an annual booster.

Is the vaccine safe?

The anthrax vaccine has been approved by the FDA to protect against both inhalation and cutaneous forms of anthrax. Today's vaccine is the same one used since 1970 with more than 5.8 million doses given to 1.4 million service members since 1998. You cannot contract anthrax from the vaccine.

Twenty human studies with more than 860,000 vaccine recipients found no unexpected patterns of adverse events. Anthrax vaccine has a lower local reaction rate than the influenza vaccine. Measles, mumps and rubella, tetanus and the influenza shot are more likely to cause fever than the anthrax vaccine.

Finally, the anthrax vaccine has approximately the same risk for acute systemic reactions as any of our other routine immunizations - about 1-in-100,000 immunizations.

The bottom line.

The threat from anthrax is real and our forces must be protected. The health and safety of all Air Force personnel is a top concern and the vaccine is a safe and effective option against the existing threat.

Any questions can be directed toward Capt. Heath Woockman, 82nd MDG AVIP medical point of contact at 676-3669 or e-mail him at