Congressional investigators questioned the long-term effects of an anthrax vaccine given to America's armed forces despite government assurances April 29 that U.S. troops are being protected, not harmed by the shots. Skeptical lawmakers suggested the Defense Department shouldn't continue mandating anthrax vaccinations until further studies ensure there won't be health problems later. Kwai Chan, a GAO official, said federal health and drug safety officials have only looked at whether the vaccine appears to protect people from anthrax and whether there were any immediate adverse reactions to inoculation. "The long-term safety of the vaccine has not yet been studied. Therefore one cannot conclude there are no long-term adverse effects," Chan told lawmakers.
Some of the 150,000 Gulf War veterans who received the vaccine suspect it may be a factor in their mysterious maladies, including fatigue, headaches and nerve disorders. Defense Secretary William Cohen last year ordered all 2.4 million active duty and reserve troops to get the anthrax vaccine as protection against biological warfare. More than 220,000 service members have been immunized so far. Between 100 and 200 service members have refused the vaccine, according to Pentagon estimates. Those who reject the shots can be dismissed for refusing a direct order.
Anthrax has never been used in combat, but the Pentagon fears Iraq, North Korea and other countries - or terrorist groups - might try. Anthrax is a naturally occurring bacteria found in domesticated animals; it can be produced as dry spores that, when inhaled, cause death within a few days. The Food and Drug Administration licensed the vaccine in 1970 based on animal studies and on the experience of how well the vaccine worked for those inoculated since the 1950s. It is considered 92.5 percent effective, early studies showed.
COMMENT: The evidence is starting to leak out that the anthrax vaccine is not all it is cracked up to be, and like most all vaccines, should be avoided.