A mixed reaction from troops to anthrax news
July 3, 2004
SEOUL — Soldier and civilians in South Korea had mixed reactions Thursday to the Pentagon’s announcement it would reinstate its controversial mandatory anthrax and smallpox vaccination programs.
While some expressed skepticism over the vaccines’ safety and wondered why the program was coming back now, others were unconcerned.
“Personally, I’m a little worried about the health aspect of it, so I’ve tried to read up as much as I can. But I’m not going to be one of those guys who gives up my whole career over not getting the shots,” said Sgt. Will Norton of the 2nd Infantry Division.
Vaccinations for troops and “mission essential” civilians were curtailed in June 2002, when the manufacturer changed how the vaccine was made and awaited approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Pentagon’s top health official said in announcing the program Wednesday.
The expanded vaccination program — mandatory in South Korea and certain other parts of the Pacific Command — doesn’t reflect a change in threat conditions for troops, civilians and dependents in the affected areas, said William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs.
But that explanation didn’t convince everyone.
Carl Barron, a civilian contractor who works at Yongsan Garrison, said the reinstated program gave him pause.
“You hear about the possibility of a terrorist group or somebody like North Korea using biological weapons but I just didn’t think that fairly remote possibility is worth making everyone get the shots,” he said.
“I didn’t really think it was still an issue here until I heard this announcement.”
A memo issued Monday by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz directs the services to begin inoculating, with both anthrax and smallpox vaccines, uniformed personnel going to the Korean Peninsula for 15 days or more.
The group includes the Pacific Command Forward Deployed Naval Forces, emergency-essential and equivalent civilian employees assigned to Korea, contractor personnel carrying out mission-essential services in Korea and all CENTCOM region personnel.
Wolfowitz’s memo also instructs the services to make the vaccines available on a voluntary basis to family members and other DOD civilians in Korea.
Of course, for some soldiers in South Korea, the new round of vaccines won’t be an issue. Spc. Keith Anderson of 2nd ID said he got both vaccines last year, when his previous unit was sent to Iraq.
“I guess you could say I’ve already got it out of the way. The smallpox was pretty uncomfortable for a few weeks, trying to keep from touching it and then touching your eyes or something. And the anthrax gave me a pretty good lump on the arm,” he said. “But after a while, you forget about it.”
From two-thirds to three-fourths of the troops deployed to the Middle East have received the vaccines, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
— Sandra Jontz contributed to this report.