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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon is expanding its controversial anthrax and smallpox immunization programs to "tens of thousands" of U.S. troops in or heading to the Pacific and Central Command areas, the top Pentagon health official said Wednesday.

The expanded program is a result of an increase in the supply of the vaccines and not a change in threat conditions against troops, civilian workers and their families, said William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs.

"With an increase in the amount of vaccine available, particularly for anthrax, we will now vaccinate personnel assigned to selected units in the U.S. Pacific Command, additional personnel serving in the U.S. Central Command, and selected other groups of individuals," Winkenwerder said.

This will be the first time forces on the Korean Peninsula will be inoculated since the Pentagon resumed the program in June 2002, Winkenwerder said. The manufacturer had to temporarily stop production after it changed how the vaccine was made and awaited approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

"I don't have precise numbers for you in terms of aggregate number of additional personnel," Winkenwerder said. "It's into tens of thousands. But, of course, with rotations of forces occurring at periods of time, actually that number will increase."

Between two-thirds and three-fourths of troops deployed to the Middle East have received the vaccines.

Wednesday's change will make it mandatory that all personnel deployed to the region be vaccinated. However, the department will not inoculate those exempt for health reasons, but exempted personnel still are deployable, he said.

Expanding the program to the Pacific does not reflect a change in threat levels posed against U.S. forces, civilians and their families, said Winkenwerder and Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The threat has not changed," Rodriguez said.

"I think that's the bottom-line message," Winkenwerder said. "The threat condition, we believe, has not changed since the point at which we implemented these programs earlier."

However, intelligence on suspected capabilities and motives of some adversaries make the Pacific and Central Command areas more of a threat than other regions in the world, prompting the department to vaccinate those troops and personnel, Rodriguez said.

Winkenwerder offered no time line, but said vaccinations for the expanded group "will begin in the very near future."

A memo issued Monday by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz directs the services to begin inoculating, with both the 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 expand the program to include all personnel in the CENTCOM region.

Since June 2002, when the Pentagon resumed its anthrax program, the department has inoculated 750,000 personnel. Since the program's inception in 1998, more than 1.1 million people have been vaccinated. Since it started the smallpox program in December 2002, 625,000 personnel have been vaccinated.

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.

"We know that the threats of anthrax and smallpox are very real and very serious. Exposed to anthrax, you're likely to die if you do not receive treatment promptly. Anthrax is an attractive weapon in that it's highly lethal, easily spread in the air over a large area, easily stored and dangerous," Winkenwerder said. "Some of our adversaries, we believe, possess anthrax.

"Smallpox is also an attractive weapon due to its contagious characteristics and is also deadly. Once thought to be eradicated, some of our adversaries may possess this virus and that places our personnel at risk of exposure."

But some maintain the vaccines cause health problems and some have accepted separation from service or disciplinary action for disobeying an order rather than take it.

A federal judge still has yet to decide whether to terminate the mandatory program. No hearing date has been set.

Winkenwerder also said some of the military's stockpile of anthrax vaccine will be put in reserve for Heath and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security to use in case of a domestic attack.


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