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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Officials confirmed last week that 120 sailors from the USS Cowpens received shots of anthrax vaccine that had expired.

The expired vaccine poses “no medical risk” to the affected sailors, according to the vaccine manufacturer and medical experts consulted by the ship, said Commander Task Force 70 spokeswoman Cmdr. Jensin Sommer.

“There have been no adverse medical issues associated with the administration of these doses,” Sommer wrote in an e-mail to Stripes. “No additional monitoring was required; however, the medical department is standing by to address any questions or concerns crewmembers may have.”

The independent duty corpsman who administered the doses was disciplined and moved off the Yokosuka-based guided-missile cruiser, Sommer said. She would not release the sailor’s name or rank due to privacy concerns.

The incident was considered an “oversight,” and the majority of the ship’s 405 sailors received the anthrax vaccine from the same lot before it expired, she said.

The six-shot series of Anthrax Vaccine Absorbed is a requirement for all sailors — about 6,700 — in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces through the Department of Defense’s Anthrax Vaccination Immunization Program, or AVIP.

The DOD maintains that anthrax — an acute infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacteria — is a “top choice” for use as a biological warfare agent, according to the AVIP Web site.

“We vaccinate our servicemembers to protect them against deadly diseases, both natural and those potentially spread by terrorists or enemy forces,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Steve Curry on Friday. “Anthrax is a deadly infection, and this vaccine is a force-protection measure to combat it.”

The military reinstated anthrax shots last spring for all servicemembers and DOD civilians headed to high-threat areas such as the Middle East and the Korean peninsula for more than 15 days.

Controversy has followed the military mandate since the AVIP’s inception in 1998 as servicemembers, attorneys and citizens groups have challenged the mandate on the basis that the vaccine is unsafe and can cause birth defects, Gulf War illness and flu-like side effects.

The program was halted in 2004 after a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration made mistakes in determining the vaccine was safe. Vaccinations were available in the following years on a voluntary basis, but only 50 percent of servicemembers going to high-threat areas wanted the shots, according to the DOD.

But the Cowpens has not had any issues with crewmembers refusing the vaccine, according to the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Terry Mosher.

“We have had no issues with crewmembers refusing the vaccine before or since the incident, nor do we expect any adverse effects,” Mosher said. “I remain confident in the vaccine’s effectiveness and importance as a force-protection tool for our sailors.”


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