Army to fund vaccine treatment centers

Future of centers—which deal with severe side effects of anthrax, smallpox and other biological defense vaccines—was in question.

The Army will continue to fund this year a $5.7 million biodefense vaccine treatment and research centers for which no money had been budgeted, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Full operation in fiscal 2005 of the Vaccine Healthcare Center, located at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, had appeared in question following decisions last year by the Army not to budget for it and congressional leaders not to specifically fund the program.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., over the past year had raised concerns about the future of the program, which specializes in treating and investigating uncommon, severe side effects of anthrax, smallpox and other biological defense vaccines.

According to a statement from Walter Reed released to Global Security Newswire yesterday, however, "The U.S. Army Medical Command, through its North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, will underwrite the $5.7 million operation."

The Medical Command will do so, it said, "in anticipation of funding decisions for fiscal year 2006 and beyond."

Also, "a majority of that FY05 amount will be credited against the Global War on Terrorism," it said.

No indication was given about whether the program would be included in the Bush administration's fiscal 2006 budget, which is expected to be presented to Congress later this winter.

"As a matter of policy, we don't release the dollar figures for budgets until those dollars have been appropriated - that is, until Congress has passed the budget," according to the statement.

Vaccine Healthcare Center officials have applied to include their program in the Army's next long-term budget plan beginning in fiscal 2006.

The center hopes to open, beginning in fiscal 2007, satellite treatment centers in Europe, Hawaii, on the West Coast, and in the northern Midwest - in addition to three already operating in the continental United States.

However, present funding levels are not sufficient to meet the center's current workload, center officials have said.