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Pentagon resuming anthrax vaccinations

The Defense Department said it would resume vaccinating troops against anthrax after a federal judge lifted his order limiting the program.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Defense Department is resuming anthrax vaccinations of troops after a federal judge removed a legal restraint on the program.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a two-page order Wednesday that ended his Dec. 22 injunction halting the vaccinations. The new order cleared the way for the Defense Department to resume inoculations of service members, except for the six military personnel who brought the suit challenging the military’s authority to require the vaccinations.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, ordered military departments to "immediately resume the anthrax vaccination program."

More than 900,000 servicemen and women have received the shots, among the millions of doses of various vaccines administered annually to protect troops against disease and bioterror threats. Hundreds of service members have been punished or discharged for refusing them, according to the Defense Department.

Chu noted that the litigation had not been finally resolved, but he added that the Defense Department was convinced that the anthrax vaccination program "complies with all legal requirements."

FDA ruling swayed decision
Sullivan had halted the vaccinations in December, saying he was convinced by the six plaintiffs that the vaccine was experimental and being "used for an unapproved purpose" — that is, for exposure to inhaled anthrax, not just for exposure through the skin.

The federal government has long maintained that the licensed vaccine is safe, is not experimental and can be used for protection against anthrax inhaled or absorbed.

Eight days after Sullivan’s December injunction, the FDA announced that the vaccine was safe and effective for use against inhaled anthrax. In his written order Wednesday, Sullivan questioned the timing of that announcement so soon after his injunction.

"Although the timing of the issuance of the rule is arguably highly suspicious, nevertheless, the rule has been issued and the principal reason for the issuance of the injunction has been addressed by the government," the order said.

Mark S. Zaid, a lawyer for the six, said his clients would move ahead with their case. He also questioned whether the Defense Department pushed the FDA to declare the vaccine as safe.

"We’re going to continue to challenge this FDA ruling as well as the Defense Department’s process," he said.