Tag: anthrax

Vaccines and Gulf War Syndrome

Why do some folks think that vaccines cause Gulf War Syndrome?

The anthrax vaccine did not cause Gulf War Syndrome.
The anthrax vaccine did not cause Gulf War Syndrome.

The usual suspects.

Vaccines and Gulf War Syndrome

What is Gulf War Syndrome?

“A prominent condition affecting Gulf War Veterans is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems.”

Gulf War Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Illnesses

Remember the Gulf War?

It was the six month war in 1990-91, including Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, in which coalition forces expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Although research continues to determine how service in the Gulf War could be linked to Gulf War Syndrome, there are no shortage of folks trying to blame vaccines.

According to anti-vax theories, it was either:

  • the fact that soldiers had to get several vaccines to protect them from many threats during the war, including anthrax, botulism, and plague
  • the squalene, an adjuvant, in the anthrax vaccine
  • contaminated anthrax vaccines

What do real experts think caused Gulf War syndrome?

“Across all studies and populations and since the earliest findings appeared linking self-reported exposures to diagnosis of GWI, two types of theater-related exposures have been consistently identified as risk factors for the disorder: exposures to pesticides and PB use.”

White et al on Recent Research on Gulf War Illness and Other Health Problems in Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War: Effects of Toxicant Exposures During Deployment

The leading theory is that it was caused by pesticides sprayed everywhere and pyridostigmine bromide, which was given to pretreat soldiers in case they were hit with nerve agents.

There is little evidence to support any link between vaccines and Gulf War Syndrome.

More on Gulf War Syndrome

Which Vaccines Do You Get When You Join the Military?

The oral adenovirus vaccine is approved to prevent adenovirus infections in military populations.

Believe it or not, many vaccines are available that we don’t routinely get.

Some we only get if we travel, like vaccines for yellow fever and typhoid. Others we only get in high risk situations, like if you get exposed to a bat with rabies.

And one, the adenovirus vaccine, you can only get if you join the military.

Which Vaccines Do You Get When You Join the Military?

But don’t folks get a lot of vaccines when they join the military?

It depends…

Whether you join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, health personnel will evaluate your immunity status by checking your titers to routine vaccine-preventable diseases. So no, if you were wondering, it doesn’t seem like they just check the vaccine records that you might bring from your pediatrician.

And then once they assess your immunization or immunity status, you will get vaccinated:

  • upon accession – adenovirus, influenza, meningococcal, MMR, Tdap, and chicken pox
  • during the first or second half of collective training – hep A, hep B, and polio (if needed, although a dose of IPV after age 18 is required) and other vaccines based on risk

So, in addition to getting caught up on all routine vaccines that they might be missing, there are other “military vaccines” that they might need, including:

  • Adenovirus vaccine – given to enlisted soldiers during basic training
  • Anthrax vaccine – only military personnel with extra risk, although some civilians can get this vaccine too
  • Smallpox vaccine – only military personnel who are high risk and smallpox epidemic response team members, although some civilians can get this vaccine too

Which vaccines you get in the military might be determined by where you are getting deployed to.
Which vaccines you get in the military will likely be determined by where you get deployed.

Like the recommendations for civilians, other vaccines are mainly given to military personal if they have extra risk based on where they are being deployed.

  • Cholera – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to endemic areas
  • Japanese encephalitis – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to endemic area in Eastern Asia and certain western Pacific Islands
  • Rabies vaccine – pre-exposure vaccination is only for military personnel with animal control duties or with extra risk based on deployment, including special operations personnel
  • Typhoid vaccine – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to typhoid-endemic areas and other areas with poor sanitation.
  • Yellow fever vaccine – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to yellow-fever-endemic areas in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

These are the same vaccines that we would get if we traveled to high risk areas.

Military Vaccines in Development

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the military does research on infectious diseases and vaccines.

Members of the military are often put at great risk for known and emerging diseases, like Ebola, Zika, and malaria.

That’s why some vaccines might have been given as an investigational new drug in special situations, typically when “individuals who have a high occupational risk – laboratory workers, facilities inspectors, vaccine manufacturers and certain military response teams.”

These vaccines, which were initially developed at US Army labs, are no longer being produced, but have included:

  • Argentine hemorrhagic fever (Junin virus) vaccine
  • Chikungunya fever vaccine
  • Eastern equine encephalitis vaccine
  • Q fever vaccine
  • Rift Valley fever vaccine
  • Tularemia vaccine
  • Venezuelan equine encephalitis vaccine
  • Western equine encephalitis vaccine

Today, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) “is a leader in global efforts against the world’s most pervasive and high impact infectious diseases.”

WRAIR is working on vaccines for HIV, Ebola, MERS, and Zika.

What to Know About Military Vaccines

You will need some extra vaccines when you enlist in the military, but how many will depend on if you are up-to-date when you join and your area of responsibility. So there is no one-size-fits-all military immunization schedule.

More on Military Vaccines

Anthrax Vaccine

Although anthrax is a regular bacterial infection, you can get it from exposure to infected animals, these days people are more concerned about terrorism and the use of weaponized anthrax.

That’s where the anthrax vaccine comes in.

Biothrax, an anthrax vaccine that was first approved in 1970, can be given to those who are at high risk for exposure to anthrax in a series of five doses.

More on the Anthrax Vaccine