WASHINGTON -- A federal judge yesterday allowed the military to resume anthrax inoculations, although he questioned the timing of a government announcement declaring the vaccine safe.
US District Judge Emmit Sullivan announced his decision from the bench and then issued a two-page order, which ended the injunction he imposed Dec. 22 to halt the vaccinations.
The Pentagon has not said whether it will resume the vaccinations.
Eight days after the injunction, the Food and Drug Administration announced the vaccine was safe and effective for use against inhaled anthrax.
"Although the timing of the issuance of the rule is arguably highly suspicious, nevertheless, the rule has been issued and the principal reason for the issuance of the injunction has been addressed by the government," the judge's written order said.
Sullivan's order still banned forced vaccination for six military personnel who filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the mandatory vaccinations that started in 1998.
The Justice Department, citing the FDA order, had asked Sullivan to set aside his preliminary ban, except for the plaintiffs.
Sullivan's action stayed, or halted, the class action part of the suit.
Sullivan said in his original order that he was convinced by the plaintiffs that the vaccine was experimental and being "used for an unapproved purpose" -- that is, for exposure to airborne anthrax as well as exposure through the skin.
The federal government has long maintained that the licensed vaccine is safe, is not experimental, and can be used for protection against anthrax inhaled or absorbed.
More than 900,000 servicemen and women have received the shots, among the millions of doses of various vaccines administered annually to protect troops against disease and bioterror threats. Hundreds of service members have been punished or discharged for refusing them, according to the Pentagon.