US Navy

"Our vaccination program is critical to our warfighting readiness, as well as a tool in ensuring the safety and welfare of our personnel." VADM Dan Oliver, Chief of Naval Personnel

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What Every Navy Member Should Know About The Anthrax Vaccine

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Right Up Front

What is the Threat

Biological weapons are maintained by several countries around the world. Use of these weapons could cause widespread illness among unprotected military forces.

Anthrax is the biological weapon most likely to be encountered because it is:
  • Highly lethal
  • Easy to produce in large quantities
  • Relatively easy to develop as a weapon
  • Easily spread in the air over a large area
  • Easily stored and remains dangerous for a long time

What is Anthrax

Anthrax is a disease normally associated with plant-eating animals (sheep, goats, cattle, and, to a lesser degree, swine). It is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax has been recognized as an illness for centuries. Once common where livestock were raised, it is now controlled through animal vaccination programs. Anthrax still occurs in countries where animals are not vaccinated, mainly in Africa and Asia. It does occur infrequently in many countries, including the United States.

Human infection with anthrax usually results from direct contact with infected animals or animal products such as wool, meat or hides. However, when anthrax is used as a biological weapon, people become infected by breathing anthrax spores that are released into the air. Inhalation anthrax is the disease that results from breathing anthrax spores.

Symptoms of inhalation anthrax can begin as early as 24 hours after breathing the spores. Initial symptoms include: fever, cough, and weakness and usually progress to breathing problems, shock, and death.

Why Vaccinate

Vaccines prevent illness by stimulating the body's natural disease-fighting abilities. They are among the most powerful tools developed by modern medicine for keeping people healthy. Vaccines are routinely used in the United States to protect against diseases such as mumps, measles, whooping cough, and polio. As part of force protection, military personnel are given additional vaccines to protect against naturally occurring diseases encountered when deploying overseas, such as typhoid, hepatitis, and yellow fever. Vaccines also help protect against biological weapons.

A safe and effective licensed vaccine against anthrax is available. The Department of Defense has established a vaccination program to protect military personnel against anthrax.

What is the Anthrax Vaccine

The anthrax vaccine is a formalin-inactivated vaccine used to protect people against anthrax. This vaccine contains no living organisms. The anthrax vaccine is not new. Human anthrax vaccines were developed in England and the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s. The vaccine that you will receive was licensed by the FDA in 1970. This vaccine has been safely and routinely administered in the United States to veterinarians, laboratory workers, and livestock handlers.

Questions and Answers

  • Why are Service members getting this vaccine?
  • Anthrax is a lethal weapon that could be used against deployed personnel. Vaccination before exposure is a critical part of the protection against this weapon. Is the vaccine all that is needed to protect against inhalation anthrax? Being fully vaccinated greatly increases the chances of surviving an exposure to anthrax. Chances are further improved by other measures, especially the proper use of the protective masks.

  • Is this an experimental vaccine?
  • No, the anthrax vaccine has been approved by the FDA since 1970. Michigan Biologic Products Institute (now the Bioport Corporation) licensed the vaccine (No. 99) and is the only manufacturer.

  • Is this vaccine safe?
  • Yes, this vaccine has been safely and routinely administered in the U.S. to veterinarians, laboratory workers, and livestock handlers since 1970. No reports of serious adverse effects have been received by the manufacturer.

  • Is there anyone who should not receive the vaccine?
  • The anthrax vaccine should be administered only to healthy men and women from 18 to 65 years of age because investigations to date have been conducted exclusively in that population.

  • What about pregnancy?
  • Anthrax vaccine, like other vaccines in the U.S., is classified as "Pregnancy Category C," which means that animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with anthrax vaccine. Therefore, prudent medical practice dictates that all vaccinations, including anthrax, should be routinely deferred during pregnancy unless clearly needed.

  • What other medical conditions could affect the use of this vaccine?
  • If a person has an active infection or is taking some prescription medications, a decision to give the vaccine will be made on a case by case basis.

  • The anthrax vaccine was administered to personnel deployed in the Gulf War. Has the anthrax vaccine been linked to illnesses among Gulf War veterans?
  • No. Several national scientific groups, including the National Academy of Sciences, have addressed this issue and have found no evidence to link the anthrax vaccine with illnesses among Gulf War veterans.

  • Does the vaccine cause sterility?
  • No. The vaccination has been routinely used for the past 28 years and has not been associated with sterility. Although we cannot conduct experiments with lethal agents on the human reproductive system (for ethical reasons), there is ample evidence that it does not cause any harm or sterility.

  • What are the side effects?
  • As with other vaccinations, pain may occur at the site of injection. Temporary side effects (sore arm, redness, and slight swelling) may occur. The vaccine has been in use since 1970 with no known long-term side effects.

  • Am I required to take the vaccine?
  • Yes. This program will be treated like any other vaccine that is required to prepare you for deployment. You will be required to take it unless medically deferred.

  • How can I get more information about anthrax vaccine?
  • Your commander. In addition, more information on the anthrax vaccine can be accessed at the web sites listed on this site.

Anthrax Web Site

  • Department Of Defense Main Anthrax Web Site
    Are DoD's mandatory anthrax inoculations really safe? Why is anthrax suddenly such a big deal? Why doesn't DoD make the shots optional and let each of us decide for ourselves what protection we need? If you've asked any of these questions, you are in good company, because many service members have since May. That's when Defense Secretary William Cohen made the anthrax vaccinations mandatory. You can find out why and answers to many other questions at "Countering the Anthrax Threat," a new Web site highlighted on "DefenseLink" DoD's Internet home page at

Last Update: 23 July 2009