BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
January 25, 2008: The U.S. Air Force recently held a 24 hour
"disease containment exercise" at Anderson Air Force Base on the Pacific island
of Guam. The premise was that a package containing smallpox was delivered to a
building on the base. All the emergency response personnel, which includes all
the security troops and many other as well, were called out to do their thing.
This was all observed, and performance and problems noted. There were minor
disruptions to base operations, but at the same time, just about every aspect
of base operations was involved. Similar
exercises are suitable for other biological attacks, as with anthrax.
Containment would be followed by
quickly vaccinating troops, who are not already vaccinated, against the disease
agent. Giving anthrax and smallpox vaccinations to troops ahead of time has
caused some controversy, including lawsuits, despite the fact that thousands of
medical and agricultural workers regularly get anthrax vaccinations, and that
until the 1970s, nearly everyone was vaccinated for smallpox. The controversy
arose from the fact that, with any vaccination, a small percentage (usually a
fraction of one percent) of those receiving the vaccination will get sick. A
few people will even die. But when your chance of exposure to much more lethal
diseases like anthrax and smallpox is high, the small vaccination risk is
considered a reasonable trade off. The Department of Defense vaccination
program is to protect troops against the possible terrorist use of biological
weapons. The problem here is that there is no agreement on how likely that is
to happen. Thus the real risk of adverse reaction to a vaccination looms larger
than the threat of catching the disease itself. Out of 750,000 troops
originally vaccinated for anthrax, about 30 refused, and were all punished for
disobeying orders. It was from this group that the legal actions originated.
The scientific community finally convinced the courts that giving the troops
anthrax vaccinations was a safe and sound thing to do.
Another 625,000 troops have been
vaccinated for smallpox, with no refusals. This is apparently due to the fact
that many older troops had been vaccinated once before, when they were
children, with no ill effect. Until the late 1970s, nearly everyone was
vaccinated for smallpox, a disease that kills about 30 percent of its victims.
Anthrax is very rare, only showing up among people who work with farm animals,
or work in certain rural areas. Most of them get anthrax on their skin, which
is rarely fatal, and easy to cure. The inhaled version is rare in the wild, and
fatal more than half the time. Military grade anthrax would mostly be inhaled,
and thus could be more devastating than smallpox. But smallpox is easier to
spread, it is passed it on by simply
However, it is considered unlikely that
a terrorist organization would use smallpox, because it would probably quickly
get back to impoverished Islamic countries, where treatment and vaccination
would be much less likely. Thus, Islamic terrorists using smallpox would end up
killing far more Moslems than Christians. But, then, terrorists have never been
noted for their heavy use of logic.