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Anthrax vaccine required for high-threat areas.

Anthrax vaccinations became mandatory March 19 for Air Force Reservists who deploy to a high-threat area for more than 15 days.

Mandatory vaccinations are limited to Airmen in specific high-threat areas--U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and the Korean peninsula--for more than 15 consecutive days. Other people, such as emergency-essential and comparable Department of Defense civilian employees and certain contractors performing essential services, may also be included in the program.

"Each vaccine lot is authorized for release by the Food and Drug Administration before shipment," said Lt. Col. Tim Bennett, command public health officer at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Ga. "No other product is approved by the FDA to prevent anthrax before exposure."

The assistant secretary of defense for health affairs approved the Air Force plan for resuming mandatory anthrax vaccinations. The new Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program allows voluntary vaccinations for people who have received one or more previous anthrax shots and want to continue the series.

After an extensive evaluation, the FDA re-issued a final order on the license status of the anthrax vaccine and again determined that the vaccine is licensed for the prevention of anthrax, regardless of the route of exposure. Taking the vaccine is consistent with good medical practice and personal protection, Colonel Bennett said.

The vaccine requires a series of six shots in an 18-month period and a booster shot every year after that. According to the AVIP Web site, the vaccine is effective against the three types of anthrax infection: cutaneous, gastrointestinal and inhalational.

According to U.S. intelligence agencies, inhalational anthrax is the most likely type to be used by an enemy because anthrax spores are cheap and easy to produce. Anthrax spores can be stored for a long time, can be dispersed in a variety of ways and are difficult to detect. Inhalational anthrax is highly lethal, and anthrax spores can cause widespread illness and death among unprotected people.

The Air Force implementation plan does not require or advise people who have started the vaccination series and were deferred, for whatever reason, to start again at the beginning. Instead, Airmen will pick up the shot series where they left off. This practice is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta.

"It is important not to compress this dosing schedule," Colonel Bennett said. "Individuals should not get vaccinated too soon. Their bodies need time to build antibodies to the vaccine. If they get doses too close together, they may not get the full protective value of the vaccine. Vaccinations should begin, to the extent feasible, up to 60 days prior to deployment or arrival in high-threat areas to provide the greatest protection."

People who are no longer deployed to a high-threat area or no longer assigned to designated special mission roles can take the later vaccine doses on a voluntary basis.

Some people, including those with pre-existing medical conditions that kept them from receiving the anthrax vaccine before and those who develop reactions while taking the vaccine series, may qualify for a medical exemption.

"Most people tolerate anthrax vaccination without significant reaction," Colonel Bennett said. "As with most vaccines, some may experience temporary pain and swelling in their arm at the site of the injection." (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)
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Title Annotation:Round the Reserve
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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