Anthrax: Protecting Our Military Is the Right Decision

Article excerpt

The Department of Defense is implementing a program to vaccinate all servicemen and women from anthrax. Because at least seven of the United States' potential adversaries have developed an offensive biological warfare capability using anthrax, protecting our military against the deadly disease is a logical decision.

In fact, Iraq has admitted to producing and weaponizing anthrax, and during the 1990s, inspection teams discovered that Iraq had produced 8,000 liters of anthrax spores -- an amount believed to be capable of killing every man, woman, and child on the planet if properly delivered. To date, about 400,000 individuals have been vaccinated against the disease, and by 2004, all servicemen and women will receive a series of shots to inoculate them against anthrax. While protecting our soldiers and sailors against the threat of biological warfare is both responsible and appropriate, considerable controversy surrounds the order to vaccinate the entire U.S. military.

Anthrax is an infectious bacterial disease spread by contact with infected animals, handling infected products, eating infected meat, and especially in the case of the military, inhaling the bacteria from weapons-dispersed spores. When inhaled, anthrax spores turn into bacteria and create toxins in the lungs. These toxins cause bleeding in the lungs and chest and are usually fatal. Anthrax spores are the top choice in biological weapons for germ warfare because once inhaled, the bacteria is almost always deadly if not treated within 24 hours of exposure. The spores can be produced in large quantities with only a basic knowledge of biology and then stored for decades. The spores can be spread in the air by missiles, rockets, artillery, aerial bombs, and sprayers. Anthrax is also popular among biological terrorists because there is no indication of exposure: there is no cloud or color, it is odorless and tasteless, and there is no indication of attack when dispersed by aerosol spray. By the time symptoms develop, the victim almost always dies.

Although anthrax and its vaccine have been in the news recently, the disease itself is not a new phenomenon. In 1500 B.C., the fifth Egyptian plague is believed to have been anthrax. In the Middle Ages, anthrax -- then known as the "Black Bane" -- nearly destroyed all the cattle in Europe. Most recently, in 1979 an outbreak of human anthrax occurred in Russia (then the U.S.S.R.). Although it was originally blamed on consumption of contaminated meat, Russian scientists have acknowledged that the outbreak resulted from inhalation of spores accidentally released from a nearby military research facility.

The good news is that a safe, effective vaccine has been developed to protect those at risk from anthrax. Yet some have said that the vaccine itself is more serious than the disease. The media has reported that so far, approximately 100 service members have refused the vaccine. However, the facts surrounding anthrax and its vaccine clearly disprove this position. Here are some myths and facts surrounding anthrax and its vaccine:

Has the anthrax vaccine been tested? Is it safe?

Many have argued that the armed forces are being used as "guinea pigs" in this mass vaccination effort. Not so! This vaccine has been around for nearly 50 years, has been commercially available for more than 30 years, and has passed the most rigorous safety and efficacy tests. The Centers for Disease Control recently released three separate reports, all of which indicate no unexpected reactions to the vaccine. To argue that the vaccine is untested belies history and published science.

The vaccine itself is dangerous and can cause serious health problems.

There are no patterns of long-term side effects from this vaccine, no persistent side effects, and no delayed side effects. In 30 percent of men and 60 percent of women, a temporary, mild and local reaction (tenderness and redness around area of injection) occurs. …