Following judge's decision, Pentagon resumes anthrax vaccination program
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon resumed its anthrax vaccination program late Wednesday after a federal judge earlier that day lifted the temporary injunction against forced inoculations that he imposed Dec. 22.
All troops — except for the six anonymous people who originally filed the federal lawsuit — will again be required to receive the six-dose vaccine if they are deploying to countries deemed by the military as “high risk.”
For security reasons, the names of those areas are not made public.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan reversed his initial injunction of two weeks ago, after the Justice Department showed the Food and Drug Administration, tasked with licensing such products, issued a final ruling that the vaccine is, in fact, intended to guard against both the skin and inhaled forms of anthrax.
At issue for Sullivan was whether the FDA had in the 1970s approved the vaccine to guard against inhalation anthrax. He ruled he found no evidence to support the Pentagon’s assertion that it did, and thus issued the injunction.
Sullivan remarked during Wednesday’s court hearing that he found the timing of the FDA’s ruling “suspicious,” but he could not deny that was the evidence he was looking for and issued the stay.
The military vaccinates an average of 3,500 troops a day, in part because they are gearing up for the second rotation to Iraq, said Health Affairs Department spokesman Perry Bishop.
Officials said they did not know exactly how many were deployed without the vaccine.
“There is a small number of folks who … deployed during that two-week period, and since it occurred over the holidays, it’s likely a small number,” Bishop said.
The Pentagon’s message to military leaders: “You should immediately resume the anthrax vaccination program,” read a part of a memo signed by David Chu, undersecretary of defense for Personnel and Readiness, and available at www.defenselink.mil..
While the vaccine is the best round-the-clock protection afforded to the troops, it isn’t the only protection, Pentagon spokesman James Turner said last week. Troops deploy with protective clothing and detection devices, and they can take antibiotics if exposed.
Sullivan’s granting of the stay “is just a place holder until we get the rest of this done,” said Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman. “It’s not really over yet.”
A hearing is set for Jan. 16 before Sullivan to determine when the court will hear arguments on several motions.
Mark Zaid, representing the six anonymous plaintiffs, told the judge he plans to continue the fight to stop the vaccine program, first arguing against the FDA’s rule that the vaccine is safe, and also that the Pentagon has violated the process by giving vaccines to some troops out of sequence, violating the FDA licensing guidelines.
More information on the Pentagon’s vaccination program is available at: www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2004/d20030107anthrax.pdf and www.anthrax.mil/whatsnew/.