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Why do UK military personnel refuse the anthrax vaccine?

SEPTEMBER 23, 2008

Dominic Murphy and colleagues from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London have published findings from their study ‘Why do UK Military Personnel Refuse the Anthrax Vaccination?’ in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice and Science on 22 September 2008.

The purpose of the study was to understand the reasons why some members of the UK military declined to receive the anthrax vaccination.  Data was collected from 5,302 members of the UK Armed Forces who had deployed to Iraq since 2003 and have been offered the anthrax vaccination.  These included individuals who had either deployed during the initial invasion of Iraq between May and June 2003 and individuals who had deployed subsequently.

Those deployed during the initial invasion in 2003, a time when the threat of biological attack was perceived as real, refused the anthrax vaccination primarily due to issues related to consent procedures.  Individuals were unhappy with the quality of information supplied, were concerned about how the anthrax vaccination was being offered differently to other routine vaccinations they received and worried about possible side effects, citing concerns about the anthrax vaccination being implicated as one of the possible factors behind the ill health observed in some veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

A different picture emerged for those deployed on later operations to Iraq.  After the initial invasion in 2003 it quickly became apparent that the risk of biological attack had been overestimated, this was reflected in the researchers results.  Rates of refusal nearly tripled from 22% to 59% and the most commonly cited reason for choosing not to receive the anthrax vaccination was no longer feeling that biological weapons were a threat.

The papers authors are Dominic Murphy, Theresa Marteau, Matthew Hotopf, Roberto J. Rona and Simon Wessely.

Further reading:
Murphy D, Dandeker C, Horn O, Hotopf M, Hull L, Jones M et al. UK armed forces responses to an informed consent policy for anthrax vaccination: A paradoxical effect? Vaccine Vol 24(16)()(pp 3109-3114), 2006 Date of Publication: 12 APR 2006 2006;(16):3109-3114.

Murphy D, Hull L, Horn O, Jones M, Marteau T, Hotopf M et al. Anthrax vaccination in a military population before the war in Iraq: Side effects and informed choice. Vaccine 2007; 25(44):7641-7648.
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