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Senior leaders expand Air Force anthrax vaccine program

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 11, 2002) -- Air Force senior leaders recently approved expansion of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program within the service, meaning more servicemembers will be asked to roll up their sleeves in the near future.

The Air Force Anthrax Vaccine Implementation Plan is being distributed to commanders Oct. 11, said Maj. Linda Bonnel of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency.

"Installations are to implement the Air Force plan immediately and expand anthrax vaccination to include Priority II personnel," Bonnel said.

Priority II personnel are military members, emergency-essential Department of Defense civilians and specified contractors assigned or deployed to designated higher-threat areas for more than 15 consecutive days, Bonnel said. Priority I personnel, who recently began receiving the vaccine, include those in designated special mission units and anthrax vaccine manufacturing and DOD research personnel.

Higher-threat areas include countries primarily in Southwest Asia, the major said.

Individuals who fall within the Priority II description will be notified of their need for the anthrax vaccine, Bonnel said. The public health office at each installation will maintain a complete list of the most current higher-threat areas and will ensure troops receive all required force health protection measures prior to deployment.

"The health and safety of our troops is our No. 1 concern," Bonnel said. "Vaccination offers a layer of protection -- in addition to antibiotics and other measures -- that is needed for certain members of the armed forces."

The Food and Drug Administration has determined that the current anthrax vaccine is safe and effective in protecting against all forms of anthrax infection, a scientific conclusion that was recently supported by the Institute of Medicine, Bonnel said.

The FDA-licensed schedule for the anthrax vaccine calls for doses at intervals of two and four weeks after the initial dose, followed by doses at the six, 12 and 18 month points, plus annual boosters. Individuals who had previously started the anthrax vaccine series will pick up with the next dose due, Bonnel said.

The AVIP was first started in 1998, primarily for those personnel assigned or deployed to Southwest Asia and Korea. Since that time, the program has undergone a number of changes. Most recently, administration of the vaccine has been restricted to a relatively small number of personnel as part of a slowdown due to production and supply issues. Since these issues have been resolved, the program is being reintroduced per recent DOD policy. For more information about the anthrax vaccine, check the official DOD Web site at http://www.anthrax.mil.