ANTHRAX VACCINE: Cohen Says Program Is Safe
"The anthrax threat is real, and [the military is] carrying out a prudent, safe program to counter the dangers," Secretary of Defense William Cohen writes in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. Responding to two op-ed pieces written by retired members of the armed forces who disapprove of the mandatory anthrax vaccine, Cohen writes that the Joint Chiefs of Staff identified anthrax "as the number one biological threat to our troops." After the commanders of troops in the Persian Gulf and in South Korea both requested the vaccines, the Joint Chiefs recommended vaccination for all active and reserve military members. Cohen writes that they "reasoned that force protection should not be optional; just as it is inconceivable to allow a soldier to fight without a helmet, it makes little sense to send a soldier into battle without protection against a known threat such as anthrax." And before supporting the recommendation, Cohen asserts, he took precautions such as ordering testing to assure the vaccine supplies were sterile, safe, potent and pure; instructing armed services personnel to create a system to track those who received all six required shots; developing an education program; and ordering an independent review of the health and medical protocols. Vaccine administration began in 1998 only after those conditions were met, Cohen argues. He notes that "careful monitoring of the program since then reveals no unexpected side effects." More than 400,000 active duty military members have received the shots, while approximately 300 have refused the vaccinations. Cohen asserts, "We take seriously the concerns that people have raised about the program, and we are in the process of distributing additional educational material to military members and their families." Part of that effort has entailed beefing up the anthrax Web site, www.anthrax.osd.mil (2/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.