Military Mandatory Anthrax Immunization Program

Military Mandatory Anthrax Immunization Program

And the Ethical Issues in an Unproven Vaccine

Nathan Eberle


July 26, 2007




Military Mandatory Anthrax Immunization Program

And the Ethical Issues in an Unproven Vaccine


Anthrax is a toxic spore-forming bacterium that multiplies if it enters the body and can infect humans through inhalation or breaks in the skin.  The spores release a toxin into the bloodstream and the toxin stops tissues from absorbing oxygen, causing respiratory and heart failure (Mercola, 2004).

The first US outbreak of anthrax was reported in Kentucky in 1824.  Robert Koch, a German Physician, discovered Bacillus anthracis bacterium in sheep in 1850.  The bacteria can live in soil, water, and on or in dead animals.  Anthrax is not contagious from one person to another.  Contracting anthrax can occur through contact with infected animals, or animal products, and inhalation of air-borne spores, like biological weapons or from tainted postal packages.

The anthrax vaccine was first licensed from the FDA in 1970, but the data and safety reports where particularly limited.  During that time, the vaccine was only tested against cutaneous strands and not against inhalation strands of anthrax.  Furthermore, to this day developers are not sure if the vaccine will work against the inhalation spores.  They did a few tests on mill workers in the 1950’s, but the tests did not include the inhalation spores.

The vaccine is given on six-dose scheduled intervals.  The first three shots are given on two-week intervals followed by three doses at six-month intervals, followed by annual re-administration of the vaccine to maintain immunity.  There are many cases in the Military when the service member started the vaccine schedule and then stopped getting the vaccine intervals for various reasons, some of which are due to a vaccine shortage within the military and infrequent deployments resulting in mishandled vaccinations.   Therefore, when members receive more vaccine that service member would not start in the cycle were they left off, but would start the schedule all over again according to military policy.

The Military began giving the shot during the Gulf War in 1991.  Also during that time, service members were receiving the anthrax vaccine along with about six other vaccines, including the small pox vaccine.  The dilemma with this is that there was know study done to be sure of what type of reactions might occur from the combination of these vaccines together.  Many concerned people are pointing to this mixture of vaccines as a leading cause of the Gulf War Syndrome.  In some articles written it is stated that only the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom were given the anthrax vaccine, and out of the thirty-four or so countries fighting during the Gulf War, these four countries are the only ones to have reported symptoms of the Gulf War Syndrome (Citation, n.d.).

There is not an FDA approved standard for reusing or re-dating expired anthrax vaccine stockpiles, although since 1970, the FDA has permitted the vaccines to be re-dated.  The military stored their vaccines in bulk rather than small vials because legally the vaccine could last indefinitely.  The manufacturing process never met FDA normal requirements; there were some vaccine lots forty times more potent than other lots because they were not testing every single lot of the vaccine.

Since 1995, the military started testing the vaccine against inhalation agents, and because of the new testing, the military should receive informed consent from its members since they have been using an investigational new drug protocol, according to FDA regulations.  However, this had not happened.  This information alone makes it hard for dutiful military members to take the vaccine, and luckily, after eight years of service I have not yet had been vaccinated.  Many service members have denied the shot due to the information they have researched or heard from other members.  Many have had extreme reactions from military leadership for denying the vaccine.  Some have had to do prison time, while other have been discharged with fines and demotions in rank and a dishonorable discharge.  The majority of these members, and members that have had serious effects from the vaccine, are fighting the government in court over the mandatory vaccination of service members.

There have been several cases at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where I am currently stationed, of service members denying the vaccination and getting disciplined and/or discharged and reporting adverse reactions from the vaccine that has caused many short and long-term disabilities.  Besides Dover and the Air Force other branches of the military have members denying the vaccine and are building cases to fight back for being forced to get a vaccine that has not been made reliable against inhalation anthrax.  Some believe that if the effects of the anthrax shot were only small reactions, like that of other vaccinations, then it would not be an issue.  Nevertheless, when there are so many testimonies from service members that have had different reactions to the vaccine, it is an ongoing battle to get the truth and ultimately get a good vaccine.  There are antibiotics to treat any type of anthrax contracted, including inhalation spores.

Subsequent to all of the inspections in the Middle East, the United States did not find any biological weapons, so is there a valid reason to force vaccination on military members from a threat that may or may not exist?  Moreover, the anthrax attacks here in the United States after September 11 came from the U.S. and not from an overseas threat.  Many people either were infected or died from the attacks here in the U.S., but are postal workers getting a mandatory anthrax vaccination?













Mercola, J. (2004).  The Curse of the Gulf War Babies.  Retrieved 12 July, 2007 from:

Gulf War syndrome. (2007). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13 August, 2007, from

Cummings, M. (2002).  Anthrax and the Military.  Nation, 275(1), 24-24.  Retrieved May 13, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database.

Kerr, C. (2003).  Anthrax Vaccine gets Cold Shoulder from Troops.  CMAJ:  Canadian Medical Association Journal, 168(10), 1308.  Retrieved May 13, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2003).  Anthrax Vaccine:  What you need to Know.  Vaccine Information sheet, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware:  Author.

Williams, L. (2004).  Hero Punished for Criticizing Vaccine.  Retrieved April 4, 2007 from Vaccines in the Military website:





Leave a Reply