Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Pentagon says military needs anthrax vaccine

HHS' Thompson is urged to allow resumption of drug
New York Times

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is seeking authority to resume administering the anthrax vaccine to military personnel, contending that troops in South Korea and the Middle East are at particular risk of being exposed to the bacteria, military health officials said.

"We are concerned for the health and safety of our service members, particularly in worldwide operations involving the war on terrorism," William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in a statement. "Intelligence indicates an ongoing threat of anthrax against our military forces."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz requested that military officials have access to the vaccine in a Dec. 10 letter to Tommy Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

"There is a significant potential for a military emergency involving a heightened risk to United States military forces of attack with anthrax," Wolfowitz wrote. He cited a classified intelligence assessment from last month to support his concern, adding that it was the basis for continuing to vaccinate troops serving in South Korea and the Middle East.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said it was considering Wolfowitz's request. The department is authorized to respond to a terrorist attack or other emergency by allowing the military to use some drugs, such as the anthrax vaccine, which have not completed the Food and Drug Administration's approval process.

Anthrax vaccinations for military personnel were suspended in October, when a federal judge ordered the military to stop requiring troops to be vaccinated without their consent.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan found that in approving the vaccine, the FDA had not followed its procedures, which require it to seek public comment on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines before approving them.

In response to the ruling, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered a "pause" in anthrax vaccinations.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, sent letters to Thompson and to Porter Goss, the director of Central Intelligence. Shays asked Goss to allow members of his subcommittee to review the intelligence report cited by Wolfowitz.

"It is vital that so important a public health matter be conducted deliberately and openly," Shays wrote. "The threat of biological terrorism is not uniquely military."

Federal officials consider anthrax one of the most serious biological threats.

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