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Last Updated

14 Feb 2003

Source: BBC News, February 14, 2003

Australian troops scared by anthrax vaccine

Up to 40 Australian troops deployed to the Middle East have refused the compulsory anthrax vaccination.

Australian authorities say the personnel will not be punished but will be unable to serve in the region.

So far, 11 troops have been sent home.

More than 2,000 Australian military personnel will be sent to the Gulf.

The authorities are attempting to reassure them the vaccination against the anthrax virus which killed five people in the United States in 2001 is safe.

The concern is that it will produce affects similar to "Gulf War Syndrome" suffered by some soldiers who took cocktails of inoculations during the 1991 Iraq conflict.

British troops have been allowed to go to the Gulf without the anthrax injection as long as they have signed a legal waiver.

But the Australians have refused to follow the British lead.

The head of the Australian navy, Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie, insists the vaccination is safe.

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill said he would be happy to have an injection himself if he was to visit troops in the Gulf region.

But the opposition Labor Party says information about the injection should have been issued to service personnel long before their deployment.

The Australian Medical Association has called upon the military to prove the vaccination is safe.

"If they have that data, the medical profession in Australia would very much like to see it," the Association's president Kerryn Phelps told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

The inoculation is said to feel like a bee sting and is delivered via three injections in the first six months and then three more in the next 18 months.