ARLINGTON, Va. — Since the anthrax shot became optional in April 2005, slightly more than half of servicemembers have agreed to take it, Army Col. John D. Grabenstein, director of the Military Vaccine Agency said Friday.

In 2004, a federal judge temporarily barred the Defense Department from administering the inoculation after finding the Food and Drug Administration had made mistakes in determining the drug was safe.

In April 2005, the judge allowed the military to administer the anthrax vaccinations on an “emergency use” basis, but also gave servicemembers the right to refuse the shots.

“We noticed a pattern that people who had received anthrax vaccine before the EUA [Emergency Use Authorization] were more likely to accept and those who had no experience with the vaccine were more likely to decline,” Grabenstein said. “That’s a ‘familiarity effect.’ The relative experience and knowledge base of the briefers also affected acceptance rates.”

He said 81,000 Defense Department personnel received more than 106,000 doses of anthrax vaccine from April 2005 until Jan. 14, when the Emergency Use Authorization expired.

In December 2005, the FDA deemed the anthrax vaccinations safe and effective, prompting the Defense Department to announce that each service would continue to administer the vaccinations while continuing to allow servicemembers to refuse the vaccination.

A month later, the Military Vaccine Agency was to announce guidelines on the matter, Bethel said. The Marine Corps issued an announcement on Jan. 23 that anthrax vaccinations would continue after receiving the guidelines.

Marines affected are deployed, deploying or stationed in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the Korean peninsula, III Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa and mainland Japan and additional units with bio-defense or other special missions, said Lt. Col. Dave Bethel, Marine Corps vaccine coordinator.

Bethel said Marines who decide against getting vaccinated are putting themselves at greater risk.

“If you’re going to go into the fight, you should have all your defenses in place,” he said. “By not having a defense against anthrax, you’re doing yourself — and more importantly the Marine on your left and right — harm.”

The MARADMIN can be found at:

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up