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Vaccine helps keep recruits healthy

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By John Barnhart

    A vaccine developed here in Bedford County has virtually eliminated what Colonel Arthur Lyons, an Army doctor, called the “scourge of basic training camps.”

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    The problem was a respiratory illness causec by two types of adenovirus. According to Col. Lyons, there are 50 types of adenoviruses, but the Department of Defense was concerned about Adenovirus Type 4 and Type 7.
    Col. Lyons said that the two adenovirus types show up primarily in basic training and affect a minority of recruits. He said they believe the stress of boot camp makes trainees more susceptible. Studies have been done to try to find out why some people get sick and some don’t and these were not conclusive. He also noted that most people who get ill get a mild infection.
    However, thousands of trainees go through boot camps every year and that minority amounts to a lot of sick trainees with respiratory distress and fevers that exceed 101 degrees. At the least, this makes physical activity difficult, and boot camp is very physical. Furthermore, the Adenovirus Type 7 can be deadly. Col. Lyons said the virus can travel to the lungs and cause a serious form of viral pneumonia that has killed recruits.
    “It was about a death a year,” Col. Lyons said.
    The vaccine has been in use since 2011 and there have been no deaths since. In fact the vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective and has virtually eliminated adenovirus infections from boot camp barracks.
    “And it’s safe, too,” Col. Lyons added.
    The vaccine is an oral vaccine and comes in one, two-pill dose which recruits receive upon intake at boot camp. The dose consists of one pill for each of the two adenovirus types and the pills are color coded to eliminate the chance that a recruit could get two doses for one type, and none for the other. Col. Lyons said they looked into combining both into one pill, but concluded that two separate pills work better.
    “We are very pleased with the result,” he said.
    Work on developing the vaccine began at Barr Labs, in Forest, in 2001 before Barr was purchased by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. Once the vaccine was approved by the FDA and the Department of Defense, Barr began shipping the vaccine in October, 2011.
    “It was a significant effort,” said Eric Bonner, the site manager for the facility in Forest.
    The vaccine is difficult to make because each of the two pill types uses a live virus, which means the company has to take extreme precautions while making it. Using a live virus also meant that a building specifically dedicated to the manufacture of the vaccine had to be built. The vaccine is manufactured in Forest.
    Bonner said it means a great deal to him to be involved with a product that makes a significant difference for people in the military.
    “The goal is that people won’t get sick,” he said. “It makes me feel very good.”
    Since it went into use, the vaccine has resulted in a 99.7 percent reduction in the incidence of adenovirus infections.
    “It makes me very proud to see that kind of number,” Bonner commented.
    Bonner is a Navy veteran, having served as a boatswain’s mate.
    “I liked it,” he said. “I liked being outside on deck.”