Defense Department officials are looking to private industry to obtain some of the vaccines that soldiers need to battle biological warfare agents and diseases around the world.
Earlier, it appeared Fort Detrick would be the site for a $150 million government-owned vaccine production facility. It's still unclear whether any facility will be constructed at Fort Detrick, or what the installation's role will be in the project, said U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who received an update on the project Thursday.Capt. Joseph Piek, an Army spokesman, said it's too early to tell what, if any, role will be played by other Army installations, including Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, which have worked with biological warfare vaccines in the past.
The current project is being guided by the Joint Program Office for Biological Defense, which was established after the Persian Gulf War to develop detection equipment and find ways to protect troops, he said.
"It was realized that during the gulf war that the biological threat was very real and that when it came to detection, the military was not prepared," Piek said.
There were 450,000 members of the military in the Persian Gulf at the height of the war and the vast majority of them were not properly protected from several diseases, including anthrax and botulism, according to sources at Fort Detrick, headquarters for the U.S. Army's biological defense research program.
In April 1993, the Defense Department notified Congress that the Army intended to commit $15 million in existing funds to start designing a government-controlled vaccine production facility that would house 200 people at peak production.
Life Sciences International, based in Philadelphia, signed a contract with the Army Corp of Engineers to design the facility, which, at the time, was to be built at Fort Detrick.
In April 1994, other military bases in Arkansas, Indiana and Utah were being considered in addition to Fort Detrick. Last summer, defense officials were wrangling over the location and whether the facility should be government-owned or commercially owned.
Bartlett said defense officials told him in May that several private companies were willing to undertake the project and that it might end up being a commercially owned facility. Bartlett said defense officials also told him then that if it were a government-owned facility, it would be built at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, not Fort Detrick.