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Official: New adenovirus vaccine 'top priority'

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by Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

10/7/2004 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Defense Department officials are working to field a new vaccine designed to combat a virus that has plagued military basic training since World War II, DOD's senior medical official said Oct. 5.

The development of a new adenovirus vaccine is a "top priority," Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr. said. The vaccine is slated to become available for servicemember use in 2006, presuming current development efforts remain on schedule and Food and Drug Administration hurdles are cleared, he said.

People exposed to adenovirus, which is often found in a crowded, stressful environment, such as basic training, may experience fever and other flu-like symptoms, said Dr. Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. The virus usually takes three to five days to run its course, and most people fully recover without ill effects.

However, some people with weakened immune systems or other existing health issues have developed a more serious illness, and a handful of them have died after contracting the virus, he said. There have been six deaths in the past five years among about 960,000 recruits.

Department officials are spending $50 million to obtain the new vaccine, Dr. Winkenwerder said. It is now being tested for safety in accordance with FDA requirements.

"It's our plan that sometime next year, we'll be starting into what are called the Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials to look at the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Dr. Winkenwerder said. “We have every reason to believe it's going to be safe and effective because it's very similar to the old vaccine."

A post-World War II government report released in 1947 first confirmed adenoviruses were the cause of a large number of respiratory and other illnesses experienced by wartime military recruits.

Documents revealed 10 to 12 percent of all military recruits have come down with adenovirus-related illnesses since 1999, when the military ran out of an old vaccine that had been given to recruits since 1971. That percentage range is similar to that experienced during prevaccine days.

The old vaccine was dropped by the military during the 1990s, Dr. Winkenwerder said. That action "was an error" and resulted partly from a study that indicated the military no longer needed the vaccine, which had been dispensed to recruits in two-pill doses, he said.

In fiscal 1999, DOD officials recognized that the adenovirus vaccine was needed and provided funding to re-establish production for the next fiscal year; however, under previous scheduling, the new vaccine was not slated to become available until 2009.

Dr. Winkenwerder said he directed the accelerated development of the new vaccine after learning of the resurgence of the virus at military basic training.

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