Vaccine treatment centers for military personnel partially funded

Lawmakers granted $3 million of $6 million requested for the healthcare facilities, leaving the military services to make up the difference.

The U.S. Vaccine Healthcare Centers, which assess and help treat military personnel potentially sickened by biodefense vaccines, received specific congressional funding for the first time in this fiscal year.

While helping to ensure their continuity, the funding is only $3 million of the $6 million sought, leaving the centers to appeal to the Army or other military services to make up the difference.

Key senators and congressmen finalizing the $453 billion fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill approved the money last month. President Bush signed the bill (H.R. 2863) into law Dec. 30.

Congress in 2000 created the Vaccine Healthcare Centers' headquarters, located at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., as a place for personnel who might have been made ill by anthrax vaccinations to receive specialized assessment, treatment and study.

Three other locations opened in 2004, at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., the Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the Air Force's Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

None of the armed services, however, has specifically budgeted for the centers. Despite the efforts of Senators Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., lawmakers until now have also refused to fund them directly, leaving Walter Reed to transfer some of its resources.

Meanwhile, the military since 2002 has been conducting mass vaccinations for anthrax and smallpox. The centers in fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004 combined treated approximately 1,200 recipients of the anthrax and other vaccines presenting a range of side-effects, from muscle pain and chronic fatigue to multiple sclerosis. Many personnel are believed eligible for treatment but unaware that the centers exist.