SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE - The process of vaccinating millions of service members against anthrax is complicated but necessary, the top medical officer at Scott Air Force Base said.
Brig. Gen. Lawrence Randolph is the command surgeon for U.S. Transportation Command and its Air Force component, Air Mobility Command, both based at Scott. It will be his job to oversee the vaccination of more than 140,000 service members worldwide in the two commands.
Full immunization requires three shots, two weeks apart, followed by a shot at six months, one year and 18 months, then annual boosters.
That presents a new challenge, Randolph said.
"The program has got to be trackable," he said. "That's going to be very interesting as we do that, because we're trying to learn how to track people and things that happen to people. And it's a little bit different than tracking boxes.
"Whenever you've got troops sitting around and they know they need to have another shot in two weeks, that's pretty easy. It's the six-monther and the 12, when they get out a ways and can forget - that's why the tracking is so important."
The Pentagon plans to begin the vaccinations in about six months, but estimates it will take nearly six years to immunize everyone in uniform.
"You want to first give it to the people who are already deployed. That will be a pretty easy group to get, because they're there," Randolph said.
"As I understand it, the next group would be those most likely to deploy to areas where they could be in danger."
The program might not have been possible a few years ago, but computerization of medical records and plans for a computerized "smart dog tag" that can carry a soldier's medical file should change that.
Either way, the fact that countries such Iraq have been experimenting with anthrax weapons makes the vaccination program essential, Randolph said.
"The inhalation form of this stuff is nearly 100 percent fatal," he
said. "And worse, once you begin to have symptoms that someone could diagnose,
it's too late. So prevention is the way to go with this stuff."
Originally Published, December 28, 1997, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1997, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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