SEOUL — U.S. Army medical officials in South Korea are awaiting instruction on when and how to implement the mandatory anthrax vaccinations that Defense Department officials announced Monday.

“None of the service Surgeons General, nor (Pacific Command), have yet issued implementing instructions for the re-approved Anthrax Vaccination Immunization Program,” 18th Medical Command’s Col. James Gregory Jolissaint stated via e-mail Tuesday.

But if the instructions arrive before Thanksgiving, as anticipated, vaccinations could begin in December, according to Jolissaint.

For now, he wrote, the program remains voluntary for troops on the Korean peninsula.

The Defense Department’s Monday announcement made the vaccinations mandatory for U.S. troops and emergency-essential DOD civilians and contractors in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility and on the Korean peninsula, according to Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Winkenwerder said several hundred thousand troops will be vaccinated when the program resumes within 30 to 60 days.

Each branch of the service has 30 to 60 days to tell the Defense Department how they plan to implement the mandatory anthrax vaccination program, a Pentagon health official said Tuesday.

Afterward, the services will probably have an administrative announcement about how the plan will be implemented, the official said.

Recipients get a first shot, then subsequent shots after two weeks, four weeks, six months, 12 months and 18 months.

Once troops get all six shots, they are fully protected against anthrax, the official said. “A year later, they get their booster shot, the body remembers, the immune system picks up where it left off,” the official said.

Anthrax vaccinations have been optional since April 2005.

Airmen and soldiers on Osan Air Base talked to Stripes on Tuesday about the news.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicholas Tapia of Osan’s 51st Communications Squadron said he’s had the shots and had no adverse effects.

“Really, I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Tapia. “I don’t know when the last time was that anyone was hit with anthrax.”

“It wouldn’t bother me whether I have to take it or not,” he said.

Army Staff Sgt. John West of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Suwon Air Base said he thinks the shots are a good idea.

“Even though it was a voluntary thing,” West said, “I went ahead and took the shots. I think it’s a good idea that soldiers go ahead and get the shot” — because, he said, “you never know” what weapons terrorists might resort to.

But Army Cpl. Ted Shields of the 3rd Battlefield Coordination Detachment at Osan wants assurances about the vaccinations’ safety.

“I know when I was first offered the anthrax shot and I found out it was optional, it gave me concern” as to what dangers, if any, it might pose, he said. “Now … I would like to know their reason” for making it mandatory rather than optional.

Have they “made the shots ‘safer?’” he asked, saying he’d like to see research supporting the assertion that they’re safe.

Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report from the Pentagon.

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