Thursday, April 22, 1999

More join ranks
against anthrax

Some military personnel are
refusing the injections and
are facing discipline

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Seven more Pearl Harbor sailors have joined the growing number of military members questioning the safety of Pentagon's mandatory anthrax inoculations.

Petty Officer 1st Class Elsie Polak, 31, and Petty Officer 2nd Class James Marttila, 23, have refused to take the vaccine and are supposed to go before a captain's mast, a nonjudicial administrative hearing before the commanding officer of their ship, tomorrow.

Five other sailors plan to refuse the inoculations when the order is given to them, a Navy lawyer said.

To try to postpone tomorrow's hearing for Marttila and Polak, Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Young, the pair's lawyer, plans to seek an immunization waiver "on religious grounds" with the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, D.C.

She said her clients also believe that the Navy's orders to take the shots are not lawful because "the vaccine is not safe."

"A lot of the information the Navy is putting out is not true," Young said.

The two sailors are both crew members of the USS Frederick, a Newport-class tank-landing ship.

Marttila of Pomona, Calif., has refused on four occasions.

Polak, a 1985 Hilo High School graduate, has rejected three attempts by the Navy to give her the inoculations.

Both sailors don't believe the Navy has given them enough information and that not enough research has been done.

"The military can't guarantee there won't be any long-term side effects," said Marttila, a dispensing clerk.

However, Lt. Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, Pearl Harbor spokesman, said the Frederick's information about the vaccination included a Navy video aired on the ship's closed-circuit TV channel, bulletin board materials and articles in the base newspaper and on several military Web sites.

Gibbons said more than 200 members of the Frederick's crew have had the first and second series of the anthrax vaccination. The ship is now preparing for its routine June deployment.

Marttila, who has been in the Navy for 5 years, said he has been married for year and a half and "wonders how it (vaccination) will affect my unborn children or my ability to have children."

The military has discounted fears that the vaccine causes sterility.

Polak, a computer technician, said she understands the consequences, but questions "why the military has to go to such extremes. Why does it have to be mandatory to take the shots? Why aren't we given the choice?"

Gibbons said the military has made it clear through numerous means that the vaccination has been well-tested and is safe. "There is no evidence that the anthrax vaccine is associated with chronic or permanent or systemic effects," he said.

Gibbons said the "vaccination provides the best protection for sailors against anthrax ... The purpose of the vaccination is not only to protect the individual sailors, but to ensure they can support their shipmates by being able to perform their function during combat operations following any enemy's anthrax attack."

But Navy lawyer Young said recent literature has pointed out that certain additives to the serum were not part of the vaccination approved by the Federal Drug Administration in 1970.

Polak, a 12-year Navy veteran, said her brother was a Marine and fought in the Gulf War, where he was given an untested vaccine. "He's on the list to receive disability," she said, "but to this date he hasn't gotten any compensation."

Earlier this year, three other Pearl Harbor sailors refused to take the shots. One sailor has been discharged and two others were given administrative punishments. More than 3,000 sailors have been inoculated.

The mandatory inoculation program was begun in September and involves a series of six shots over 18 months. Current plans call for inoculating 2.4 million service members by 2003. "It is difficult, if not impossible, to wait until a crisis develops before starting vaccinations," Gibbons said.

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