Mandatory anthrax vaccinations for servicemembers in South Korea could begin in late March, a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman said Friday.

Over the next few weeks, USFK will review the plans submitted from each military branch that define how the shots will be distributed, spokesman David Oten said.

So far, USFK estimates the vaccine distribution will begin in late March, he said.

The vaccine is required as well for Department of Defense essential civilians and contractors in South Korea and in the U.S. Central Command.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s top health official approved plans to resume the mandatory vaccine for troops in South Korea and in the Central Command theater.

Six Department of Defense workers are fighting the requirement. Their lawyer said last week he plans to seek a temporary restraining order on the latest decision.

In October 2004, a U.S. District Court judge barred defense officials from administering the mandatory inoculations, citing mistakes in how the Food and Drug Administration determined the vaccine’s safety.

Six months later, he loosened that ban, saying the vaccines could resume on an “emergency use” voluntary basis.

Since then, the vaccinations — six shots given over 18 months — have been given on a voluntary basis. But only about half of U.S. troops opted to get the shots, prompting the Defense Department to announce in 2006 they would be mandatory for troops deemed most at risk.

The Defense Department administered more than 5.2 million vaccine doses to more than 1.3 million military personnel between 1998 and October 2004.

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, the mandatory anthrax vaccination program will resume on March 19, as per Air Force directive, said Lt. Col. Kevin Connolly, 35th Aerospace Medical Squadron commander.

Active-duty personnel deploying for 15 or more consecutive days to the U.S. Central Command area of operation or the Korean peninsula will be required to get the shot within 60 days of departure.

The same policy applies to Defense Department civilian employees deemed “emergency essential” or the equivalent, as well as government contractors carrying out “mission-essential” services.

However, for the latter personnel, the contract must specify the immunization as a requirement, Connolly said.

Medical and administrative exemptions will apply in some cases, Connolly said.

Groups that can receive the vaccine on a voluntary basis include:

U.S. government civilian employees and contractors assigned to the same areas for the same period of time, who don’t fall under the mandatory policy.Adult family members, ages 18 to 65, accompanying DOD military and civilian personnel for 15 or more consecutive days to CENTCOM or Korea.Adult family members who are ages 18 to 65 and U.S. citizens, who are accompanying U.S. contractors to the same areas for 15 or more consecutive days.Connolly said Misawa will have enough vaccine to resume anthrax immunizations starting March 19. “We’ve ordered more to ensure we have enough on supply,” he said.

Of the airmen from Misawa currently deployed to Iraq and throughout Central Command, Connolly said, “they will get the vaccine in the AOR.”

Connolly said base officials already have begun informing base leaders, airmen and health-care providers about the program.

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