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DOD implements Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program

WASHINGTON -- Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program, or AVIP, mandates Airmen assigned to high-threat areas receive the Anthrax vaccine, while also providing Airmen the choice to continue anthrax vaccines if they are not assigned to a designated high-threat area. 

The Department of Defense issued a new policy memo Oct. 12 requiring the DOD begin mandatory anthrax vaccinations for individuals in selected high-threat areas or special mission units. 

Headquarters Air Force sent out an implementation message Feb. 16 to major commands, directing them to implement the AVIP, in accordance with current DOD and Air Force guidance, said Lt. Col. Todd Shull, Air Force Counter-Biological Warfare Division chief. 

This implementation is in the initial stages and the Air Force has established a four-week timeframe, upon unit notification, for units to begin giving the Anthrax vaccine to Airmen meeting the mandatory guidelines, he said. 

The mandatory anthrax vaccinations are limited to Airmen who have orders to or are (currently) in specific high-threat areas - primarily the CENTCOM AOR or Korean Peninsula, Colonel Shull said. 

In order to be subject to the mandatory anthrax vaccination you must remain in (these areas) for 15 or more consecutive days, the colonel said. 

The DOD determined that these forward areas pose the highest threat for military forces so they must meet the mandatory anthrax vaccine measures. Additionally, personnel in designated special mission units, regardless of location, are also subject to mandatory Anthrax vaccination. 

"The second key piece of the program is the voluntary aspect of the AVIP," Colonel Shull said. "This involves Airmen who have received at least one anthrax vaccine dose since 1998. Under the new guidelines, they can elect to continue getting the anthrax vaccinations in accordance with the dosing schedule whether or not they are (or will be) assigned to a designated high-threat area." 

Taking the vaccine voluntarily is consistent with good medical practice and personal protection, Colonel Shull said. 

"While we've identified two areas as the most likely locations for an Anthrax threat, we saw in 2001 that anthrax attacks could occur anywhere," he said. "Vaccination offers a layer of protection, in addition to antibiotics and other measures, that is critical for members of the armed forces." 

The anthrax vaccine was first licensed in the United States in 1970. Since then, it has been given to those who could get exposed to environmental sources of anthrax such as service members, veterinarians, farmers, woolworkers, Colonel Shull said. 

In December 2005, anthrax vaccine was found to be safe and effective against all forms of anthrax, including inhalation anthrax. Over the course of the last 37 years the safety and effectiveness of the anthrax vaccine has been demonstrated. The anthrax vaccine is just as safe as other vaccines we're normally given over the course of our lives, he said.
Installation commanders ensure compliance with the AVIP by maintaining oversight and ownership of the installation's AVIP implementation program. 

"Ultimately, it comes down to the installation commanders to make sure this program works," Colonel Shull said. "They will be responsible to ensure Airmen receive mandatory vaccines when required and voluntarily continue the dosing schedule if they so desire." 

Over the course of implementing this program, the Air Force will provide information and make additional information sources available to all Airmen about Anthrax and the AVIP. This includes a tri-fold hand-out, briefings, and web links. 

Editor's note: Airmen at Seymour Johnson can expect the mandatory anthrax vaccinations to renew this spring, once Air Combat Command officials approve the 4th Fighter Wing operation plan, said Staff Sgt. Tonya O'Toole, 4th Medical Group.
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