Pentagon Anthrax Program Ripped

04/14/00 09:51:27 AM U.S. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) – Twenty-eight months after U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen announced an ambitious program to immunize all 2.4 million service members against deadly anthrax, only about 420,000 have received the six-shot series. And supplies of the vaccine could run out as early as July as a result of persistent problems faced by the nation’s only manufacturer of the vaccine, the General Accounting Office says. The GAO, an investigatory and auditing branch of Congress, reported Thursday that the fundamental requirement of the program – maintaining an adequate supply of vaccine – has “not yet been met.”

“The optimism at the start of this program was overstated,” Carole R. Schuster, associate GAO director for national security preparedness, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schuster said that stockpiled supplies of the vaccine are running low.

Bioport Corp., the Lansing, Mich., drug manufacturer, was shut down for 17 months for renovations and is not expected to win FDA approval to produce more vaccine “until late 2000” at the earliest, she said.

While the Pentagon insists the vaccine is safe, more than 300 service members have refused the mandatory inoculations, citing health concerns. Some objectors have been prosecuted and others have quit.

“There is substantial and justified criticism surrounding this program,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). She noted that even Vice President Al Gore is expressing second thoughts. Gore has called for “a closer look” into whether mandatory inoculation should continue for all troops.

But Pentagon officials urged Congress not to abandon the program, claiming it is still necessary. Rear Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said U.S. forces “face a growing possibility of exposure to biological agents in situations over a wide range of contingencies.” And Anthrax, almost 100% fatal when its spores are inhaled without immunization, has become “the leading biological warfare threat agent,” he said.


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