MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- An invisible killer has caused deploying Marines to roll-up their sleeves for some additional shots. The Marine Corps re-implemented the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program, or AVIP, after a 2004 U.S. District Court injunction prohibiting mandatory vaccinations, was overturned by a U.S. Appeals Court decision early last year.
Marine Administration 190-07 message officially required all uniformed personnel, civilian employees and contractors deploying to U.S. Central Command or Korea to receive mandatory vaccinations as of March 15.
The current AVIP policy states that vaccinations will begin up to 60 days prior to deployment or arrival in higher threat areas.
The anthrax vaccination consists of a series of six shots, ranging from two weeks to six months apart, taking place over an 18-month period.
“The goal of a vaccine is to develop antibodies that, with every dose, will build on the immune response to protect against infection,” said Chief Petty Officer C.R. Acord, Health Protection Chief, Health Service Support , II Marine Expeditionary Force. “It’s not necessary to go back to square one if you miss a scheduled shot. The vaccine will simply pick-up where it left off.”
Annual booster shots are required for mandatory recipients deployed in the defined regions and are available to volunteer recipients who have already returned from deployment.
Licensed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1970, the anthrax vaccine has withstood multiple studies proving it to be a safe and effective deterrent for all forms of the anthrax infection. Vaccines, in general, have been providing invaluable protection to the Armed Forces as far back as 1777.
“The Department of Defense and Health Affairs determined that the current threat levels warranted the need to vaccinate anyone deploying into the theater as a precaution,” Acord said.
U.S. intelligence agencies say Anthrax is a real threat as a biological warfare agent, because it’s simple to produce, lasts for extended periods and spreads through the air easily.
“There is evidence that our adversaries have developed and used anthrax as a biological weapon, so much so that it has even been a menace within our own borders,” Acord said.
Anthrax placed in envelopes and sent through the mail in the fall of 2001 led to the deaths of 11 U.S. postal workers.
Anthrax, an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, has the ability to withstand harsh conditions and remain inactive for up to 50 years.
The three types of anthrax infection include; inhalation, gastrointestinal and cutaneous. Each can be lethal, but inhalation is the deadliest and only form currently used as a biological weapon.
According to the AVIP website, airborne anthrax spores delivered by rockets, missiles, artillery, aerial bombs and sprayers can be 99 percent fatal if the victim is untreated. The anthrax vaccine offers a high level of protection against this threat.
Early indicators of anthrax often mimic the flu with symptoms such as a mild fever, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. The rapidly progressing symptoms from inhalation anthrax can lead to death within one to three days if untreated.
“On television, you see battle-related injuries, when in fact the number one cause of hospitalization on the battlefield is disease. And with lessons learned in the past we continue to develop a very robust force health protection plan to prevent disease and contribute to maintaining the combat effectiveness of the force,” Acord said. “Bottom line, it’s better to error on the side of caution.”
The Marine Corps initiative to combating this tasteless, odorless and invisible enemy proves to be another stepping stone in the ever-changing Global War on Terrorism.
For more information on the Anthrax Vaccination Initiative Program, contact the DOD Vaccine Clinical Call Center at 1-866-210-6469 or visit the AVIP website at www.anthrax.osd.mil.