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Vaccines and Immunizations

Q. What's the current status of the DoD's anthrax program?

A. On June 5, 2001, The Deputy Secretary of Defense amended the scope of the AVIP's implementation to include only designated special mission units, manufacturing and Department of Defense research personnel, and Congressionally mandated anthrax vaccine research. As in previous immunization program slowdowns, individuals will defer scheduled dosing until adequate vaccine supplies exist and the AVIP resumes full implementation. This temporary slowdown is due only to the short supply of the Food and Drug Administration released vaccine. There is no problem with the vaccine's safety or efficacy. If you have already begun the anthrax vaccine series, you will not have to start over but will resume the series where you left off. For more information, please visit the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program Web site.

Q. How many DoD and Coast Guard personnel will recieve anthrax vaccinations?

A. Eventually the total active duty and Reserve Component force, plus civilians designated as emergency-essential, will be vaccinated. This would total 2.4 million military personnel, including more than one million members of the National Guard and Reserves. The Coast Guard contingent numbers about 40,000, including 7,000 members of the Coast Guard Reserve. Between now and 2003, the entire force, including all people entering military service, will begin receiving the six-shot series of the anthrax vaccination in a phased program.

Q. Why will it take the DoD and Coast Guard so long to vaccinate the total force for anthrax?

A. The DoD has a phased-implementation program, starting with personnel in high-threat areas. Applying any program, procedures or process to the entire U.S. military force is a complicated and expensive process that must be thoroughly planned and carefully executed to achieve the desired results. Protection against anthrax is particularly challenging because the vaccination protocol requires multiple doses to achieve immunity, and thus involves significant administrative and logistical issues.

Q. How many servicemembers have been vaccinated for anthrax so far?

A. Between March 1998 and February 2001, more than two million doses of anthrax vaccine have been administered to more than 500,000 servicemembers.

Q. Am I as a servicemember required to take the anthrax vaccine?

A. Yes. This vaccine, like any other vaccine, is required to prepare you and other servicemembers for deployment. You are required to take it unless medically or administratively deferred. The DoD and Coast Guard are firmly committed to the maintenance of a healthy and fit force and the prevention of unnecessary casualties.

Q. Is the anthrax vaccination program a result of lessons we learned from the 1991 Gulf War?

A. Yes. Building on the lessons of past wars and leveraging superior technologies available now and in the future, the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program is one of the cornerstones of Force Health Protection. Additionally, the current world threat environment and the unpredictable nature of terrorism make it prudent to include biological warfare defense in all our force protection planning.

Q. What do I do if I suffer a reaction after having received an anthrax shot?

A. As with any medication, vaccinations can produce side effects or reactions. If you feel you have suffered an illness, injury or serious reaction after receiving any vaccination, you should report this incident immediately to your supporting medical treatment facility or your parent command. If you are hospitalized or lose more than 24 hours of duty time due to an illness, injury or serious reaction that is related to a vaccination, your supporting medical treatment facility is required to report this event through both the Defense Medical Surveillance System and the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (Army Regulation 40-562; Air Force Instructions 48-110, BUMEDINST 6230.15, CG COMDTINST M6230.4E, dated 1 Nov 95). Other adverse events can be reported as well.

If you don't believe your reaction is serious enough to visit a medical treatment facility, but you still wish to report it, you can contact Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System yourself at (800) 822-7967 or get a copy of the form at the US Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System Web site. If you think there is any problem, however, you are highly encouraged to report this in cooperation with a health care provider. When in doubt, visit a medical treatment facility.


Q. What vaccines were administered to Gulf War veterans? Why were they given?

A. Vaccines are used as part of preventive medicine to protect servicemembers before, during and after deployment. At the time of the Gulf War, most servicemembers already would have been vaccinated against several common infectious diseases, either during recruit training or later, as required by the joint guidance on immunizations.

In addition to updating routine vaccinations in need of a booster-as with tetanus-diphtheria and oral poliovirus vaccines-U.S. Central Command guidance in August 1990 recommended additional countermeasures for personnel deploying to Southwest Asia. Immunizations specifically selected for the Gulf War include: meningococcal, typhoid, yellow fever, immune globulin, anthrax, and botulinum toxoid.

Q. Are the vaccines used on military personnel safe?

A. All of the vaccines used in military personnel are licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, which means that their safety and effectiveness had been demonstrated in sufficient detail by research studies that the FDA was persuaded that it was prudent to approve their use.

Q. What should I do if my immunization record is lost?

A. As you probably know, records of immunizations are usually annotated at the time that the immunization is given to the recipient. This procedure ensures that the documentation is accurate with respect to both the identity of the recipient and the nature of the immunizations given. Entries into the records are made by medical personnel who can attest to the accuracy of the information. When immunization records are lost, as frequently happens, a person's immunization history can often be reconstructed and a record recreated, based upon another source of written documentation. A common example is the ability to replace a servicemember's lost Public Health Service (PHS) Form 731 (the yellow shot record) with a new one by filling it in with information from the military's Standard Form 601 contained in the service member's medical record. Other written records could be used in a similar manner.

Q. Do immunizations cause chronic illnesses?

A. Current medical knowledge does not, at this time, provide any evidence that receiving the usual vaccines could cause chronic illness. Such a statement is based upon the lack of any documentation of such an effect of vaccines and also upon an understanding of the way in which vaccines work.

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