Pentagon Delays Anthrax
Shots For All Troops
By Charles Aldinger
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Monday it was delaying the planned vaccination of all 2.4 million active and reserve U.S. troops against the deadly anthrax disease until the government approves a new facility built to produce the vaccine.
But officials stressed that troops being sent to South Korea and the Gulf would continue to get anthrax immunization shots begun last year with previously produced vaccine because of the danger of biological attack by North Korea or Iraq.
The problem, they said, is that the Food and Drug Administration has so far refused to give production approval for vaccine at a new high-tech BioPort Corp. plant in Lansing, Michigan.
A total of 383,000 U.S. troops rotating to the Gulf and Korea have received mandatory anthrax shots to date, but Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Sue Bailey said the start of shots for all troops -- previously scheduled to begin next month -- might now wait six months to a year.
Anthrax spores are odorless and invisible, but following initial, flu-like symptoms, the death rate for victims is higher than 80 per cent.
``It's important that all military personnel have confidence in the safety of this vaccine,'' Bailey told a news conference. ''It is not a question of if we will have confidence, but when we will have confidence.''
Defense officials said the department planned to spend an additional $8 million to $10 million to help address production problems linked to the new plant.
``We currently have enough (previously produced) vaccine to continue Phase One of the program, the vaccination of all of those troops deploying to the high-threat areas of the Gulf and Korea,'' Bailey said.
``We had hoped to begin the broader Phase Two vaccinations earlier next year. However, Secretary (of Defense William) Cohen directed that Phase Two not start until BioPort had achieved assured production of this new vaccine.''
Vaccine Only Defense Against Anthrax
She noted that she, Cohen and others had safely received inoculations of the old vaccine produced by BioPort and that there had been no deaths or serious reactions among the tens of thousands of troops who have taken the series of six shots.
Despite Pentagon warnings that the vaccine is the only defense against the deadly toxin, a small number of American troops have refused to take the shots.
David Oliver, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told reporters that the FDA had raised questions over some 40 issues at the new plant. But he voiced confidence that approval would be granted in coming months.
Oliver said defense officials ``underestimated'' the time needed to tear down BioPort's old plant on the Lansing site and to build and get approval for the new facility.
``The plant has not yet begun production and we will not launch Phase Two vaccinations until we and the FDA are completely satisfied that the BioPort plant meets the highest possible safety standards,'' Bailey told reporters.
She said it was difficult to estimate how long that might be, but that ``it could be in the range of six to 12 months.''
The Pentagon agreed in August to more than double the price that it was paying to BioPort for the vaccine, renegotiating the contract to pay more than $10 per dose from an originally agreed $4.36.
Anthrax is contracted mainly in warm weather by animals often grazing near areas contaminated by the burial of large numbers of infected animals. The disease can kill infected animals in a matter of hours but is also fatal to humans who inhale its spores.


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