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OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Airmen in South Korea who want to receive the anthrax vaccination should be able to do so starting sometime this week, but on a purely voluntary basis, officials said.

Airmen who choose not to get the shots will face no pressure or reprisals, in keeping with terms of a federal judge’s order that allows the vaccination to resume on an emergency basis but only if voluntary and without coercion, Air Force officials said.

“No one will be forced, ” said Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Portis, commander of the 51st Medical Operations Squadron’s Primary Care Flight at Osan Air Base. “They will not get punished if they refuse the vaccine.”

Officials at Osan Air Base and Kunsan Air Base said Thursday they’re awaiting delivery of the vaccine.

The Department of Defense last month announced resumption of its Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program, or AVIP, which the federal courts halted in December 2003.

Since then, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for giving shots to protect certain categories of Defense Department personnel against the effects of anthrax. The EUA runs through July 27.

In April, a federal judge ruled the EUA vaccinations could proceed — but only if it were made clear that they are strictly voluntary.

U.S. Forces Korea officials said Friday the Army community in South Korea began offering the anthrax vaccine on May 26.

Untreated anthrax exposure can cause bleeding and destruction of the brain and other vital organs, resulting in death.

The Air Force is required to provide each airman with a brochure with vaccine details and a briefing on the program. The briefings began in South Korea earlier this month.

The brochure, titled “What You Need To Know About Anthrax Vaccine,” reads in part:

“You may refuse anthrax vaccination under the EUA, and you will not be punished. No disciplinary action or adverse personnel action will be taken. You will not be processed for separation, and you will still be deployable. There will be no penalty or loss of entitlement for refusing anthrax vaccination.”

Those eligible for vaccines are active-duty military personnel, “emergency-essential” Defense Department civilians and “mission-essential” contractors, Portis said.

At some point, South Korea-based airmen will be required to report to their base hospital and sign a roster attesting that they’ve received the brochure. Hospital staffers will ask them three questions: whether they’ve received the brochure, whether they have any questions or concerns about the vaccine, and whether they want the shots.

Even those who decline the shots must come to the hospital and sign the roster, said Maj. Ron Adamson, commander of Osan’s 51st Aerospace Medical Squadron’s Public Health Flight.

The entire anthrax vaccination series consists of six shots over 18 months followed by annual booster shots, Portis said. The first three are given within 30 days.


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