Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Anthrax vaccinations
proceed without protest
in the Pacific

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Despite isolated incidents of service members refusing to receive vaccinations against the anthrax bio-warfare agent, military leaders say the program has been administered here without problems.

Lt. Col. Kevin Krejcarek, Pacific Command spokesman, said there are hopes that the more than 100,000 service members here and at Pacific and Asian bases will be inoculated by the end of the year.

"Adm. (Joseph) Prueher has gotten his third shot, along with other members of his senior staff," Krejcarek said.

As of Jan. 12, 166,233 service members have received 463,266 shots in the inoculation program, mandatory for all active duty and reserve personnel. Priority is being given to people going to Southwest Asia and Korea.

In all, 1.4 million active-duty forces and 1 million reservists will be vaccinated against the deadly biological agent.

Troops in the Persian Gulf have been receiving vaccinations because Iraq is believed to have stockpiled enough anthrax for germ warfare.

So far, service members in Hawaii who may be deployed to "high-threat areas" in Southwest Asia and Korea have gotten the immunization, which requires six shots over 18 months followed by an annual booster, Krejcarek said.

But in the reserves, only the Hawaii Air National Guard has begun inoculation.

Capt. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said "a handful" of Hawaii Air National Guard personnel, those involved in exercises and deployment to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, have begun receiving inoculations.

Howard Sugai, spokesman for the Pacific Army Reserve command, said none of Hawaii's 2,500 Army Reserve solders have been asked to take shots.

"We are still awaiting guidance," Sugai said.

Nearly 75 sailors, airmen and Marines have refused since the shots were ordered in December 1997. Earlier this month, eight pilots from the Connecticut Air National Guard, who fly A-10 Thunderbolts, said they would resign rather than take the shots. The unit is slated to deploy to the Persian Gulf later this year.

But a Hawaii National Guard spokesman and Krejcarek said there have been no refusals within the Pacific Command.

Krejcarek said the anthrax vaccine was approved and licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1970 and has been routinely given to veterinarians. "This thing has been tested and has a good track record," he said.

Anthrax is a disease normally associated with plant-eating animals like sheep, goats, cattle and swine. It is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

Used as a biological weapon, infection is caused by breathing anthrax spore, which can lead to death.

Krejcarek said there have been some reactions to the vaccination, but they have been minor.

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