The US Defense Department quietly announced last Monday that mandatory anthrax vaccinations would resume for military personnel and civilians deploying to 28 countries across the globe and even for some based in the US. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs said, "Time and again (this vaccine) has been looked at by experts, ... and each time the conclusion is the vaccine is safe and it is effective."
Tell that to the family of Jesse Lusian. The 24-year-old Northern Californian died last month "from complications resulting from an anthrax vaccine he received while serving our country as a Merchant Marine on a cargo ship in Diego Garcia, a Navy Support Facility in the Middle East."
And tell it to Senior Airman Tom Colosimo, who suffered from fatigue, headaches and painful cysts after first being vaccinated in February 1998. Colosimo soon lost 50 pounds, had dangerous fainting spells and was diagnosed with anthrax intoxication, yet faced a "retaliatory" military when he tried to get medical care for his increasingly debilitating condition.
Tragic cases such as those of Lusian and Colosimo will become more commonplace when potentially hundreds of thousands of military personnel and civilians are soon forced to take the anthrax vaccine. There's no excuse.
It's worth noting that mandatory vaccination is a bipartisan outrage, first initiated by the Clinton administration in 1997; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn't even rule the vaccine to be safe and effective until December 2003. In October 2004, a court order ended mandatory vaccinations for active-duty personnel, but under the policy adopted this week, affected servicemembers will be forced to begin the anthrax inoculation series in the next few months. Merry Christmas US troops.
The DoD's handling of the anthrax vaccine has been atrocious. As The Daily Press reported in December 2005, "The Pentagon never told Congress about more than 20,000 hospitalizations involving troops who'd taken the anthrax vaccine, despite repeated promises that such cases would be publicly disclosed." Instead, from 1998 through 2000, "a parade of generals and Defense Department officials told Congress and the public that fewer than 100 people were hospitalized or became seriously ill after receiving the shot."
Even worse, there's been no long-term study of the health impact of anthrax inoculations, and quite conveniently, the quarterly analysis of medical care data for vaccinated servicemembers was ended in 2002. Hard to fault the anthrax vaccine for your physical breakdown when pertinent medical records aren't available.
The vaccine scandal is yet another case of well-connected companies cashing in on non-competitive governmental contracts. The firm responsible for producing the military's anthrax vaccine, for example, has continued to receive hundreds of millions of Pentagon dollars despite being racked with mismanagement and production problems. BioPort Corp didn't even have FDA approval for its vaccine plant from 1998-2002, but continued pumping out unusable batches at taxpayer expense regardless.
Similarly, VaxGen, the company contracted to produce 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine for civilian use in case of a domestic bioterrorism attack, has faced serious accounting problems and FDA accusations of making "false or misleading statements" about its vaccine's benefits.
Of course, the DoD has also made false and misleading statements by calling the anthrax vaccine "safe," but that's another story.
Service members appropriately point to lack of anthrax risk as further justification for refusing the vaccine. Airman Jessica Horjus, for example, ended her military career in 2004 with a less-than-honorable discharge rather than being inoculated. She wrote the appellate authority at her Air Force base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, "There is no evidence that stockpiles of anthrax exist in Iraq or with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere. As a single mother, I cannot afford to unnecessarily risk my long-term health on a highly-reactive vaccine that supposedly protects against a threat that cannot be found." Horjus noted, "I have a kid to take care of. The Air Force can always fill my slot with someone else, but who's gonna fill the mommy slot?"
What a shameful irony that hundreds of thousands of US troops told they're fighting for freedom could soon face court martial for refusing to take a vaccine which has led to disabilities, chronic illnesses and even death in others.
Would you take it?
1. To learn more about the anthrax vaccine, read The Daily Press' amazing 16-part series entitled "Special Report: Anthrax Puzzle."
GulfWarVets.com also offers a comprehensive archive of related articles, while The Military and Biodefense Vaccine Project provides news reports and other resources.
2. Active-duty troops and veterans can find support at The Military Vaccine Resource Directory, which covers such topics as "If You Are Refusing A Direct Order To Take A Vaccine" and "If You Are Sick."
Heather Wokusch is a freelance writer and author of the two-volume series The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now. This article is partially excerpted from Volume I. For more Action Ideas or to learn more about The Progressives' Handbook series, visit www.progressiveshandbook.com. Heather can also be reached via www.heatherwokusch.com.
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