U.S. MARINE CORPS FORCES, PACIFIC, CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii -- The Department of Defense announced Oct. 16 they will resume the mandatory Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program, also known as AVIP, for military personnel, mission-essential DoD civilians and contractors, assigned to certain geographic areas of the world.
The military first instituted these vaccinations in 1991 to protect troops against possible anthrax attacks during the Persian Gulf War.
In December 2004, a Federal District Court Judge ruled that forcing troops to take the vaccination was illegal, because the Food and Drug Administration failed to declare the vaccine safe and effective against all forms of anthrax.
After the decision by the judge, the FDA issued its final rule, stating that anthrax vaccine is effective in preventing anthrax disease regardless of the type of exposure. Eight separate independent reviews also determined the licensed vaccine is safe and effective, including the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.
“The DoD is standing behind the extensive testing and education that the vaccine is both safe and effective against all forms of anthrax,” said Navy Capt. Robert G. Schultz, the force surgeon for U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.
Within 30 to 60 days, the DoD will implement instructions for military services to resume mandatory vaccinations, he said.
The vaccinations are mostly limited to members of military units designated for homeland defense, U.S. forces located in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, and Korea.
The immunization program will include personnel assigned to these higher-threat areas for 15 or more consecutive days. If possible, service members will begin vaccinations up to 60 days before their deployment.
Also, DoD personnel previously immunized against anthrax, who are no longer deployed to higher threat areas, will be allowed to receive follow-up vaccine doses and booster shots on a voluntary basis, according to a DoD press release.
“The anthrax vaccine will protect our troops from another threat – a disease that will kill, caused by bacterium that has already been used as a weapon in America, and that terrorists openly discuss,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, in a DoD press release.
Around 50 percent of military service members received the vaccinations under the current voluntary vaccination policy.
“The percentage is probably higher in the Marine Corps, because the medical staff works really hard to properly educate the Marines and Sailors about anthrax and the protective series of vaccinations,” said Schultz. “The threat is real, so making the vaccinations mandatory helps us improve the Marine Corps’ combat readiness and effectiveness.”
The threat is real on American soil as well. There have been past attacks through the U.S. postal system.
According to the AVIP website, after Sept. 11, 2001, there were 22 victims of this type of anthrax terrorist attack. Of those 22, five died from inhaling the bacteria.
The United Nations Special Commission found evidence of anthrax-filled weapons in Iraq, according the AVIP website. Although the production facility was destroyed, many experts feel Iraq could rebuild its producing capabilities easily.
After the DoD pushes the new policy to all services, the Marine Corps will issue a Marine
Administration message to begin enforcing the new policy, said Schultz.
The series of six vaccinations takes 18 months from the initial shot to the last, followed by annual booster shots.
“Anthrax is a deadly infection, and the vaccine has repeatedly shown to be safe, protective and effective,” said Schultz.
For more information on anthrax, visit the AVIP website at www.anthrax.osd.mil/threat/default.asp.