Tuesday, August 3, 1999

GOP lawmakers
oppose vaccine

The members of Congress
condemn the mandatory
anthrax vaccination

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- A handful of congressional Republicans today condemned the military's mandatory anthrax vaccinations as a dangerous and growing impediment to recruiting and retaining qualified personnel.

The lawmakers urged support for a pair of bills introduced in the House of Representatives. One would halt the program immediately until the Food and Drug Administration approved another vaccine, or one with fewer than six shots; the other would make the inoculations voluntary pending the results of a study by the National Institute of Health.

"We are losing good people," said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who introduced one of the bills. "This program is causing a growing exodus of pilots and other qualified personnel."

"Something is dreadfully wrong," added Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who has held congressional hearings on the inoculations, which he said turned up evidence of problems. "The decision to use this vaccine is fraught with errors."

In Hawaii, at least 17 members of the military have refused the inoculations for fear of adverse reactions.

Military-wide figures are harder to come by. The Department of Defense puts the number at about 200, including some who have been court-martialed for their refusal.

But Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who has represented many of the disgruntled military men and women, said as many as 400 active-duty personnel have refused to take the shots, as well as perhaps 200 National Guard and reservists.

"There are dramatic disparities in how they are treated," he said of the men and women who refuse the inoculations.

Despite what appears to be growing distrust of the anthrax inoculations within the military and on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon has not changed its position that the program is a safe, necessary response to the threat of biological warfare.

"It's a vital force protection measure against what is a 100 percent deadly threat that we know our enemies have," said Department of Defense spokesman Jim Turner.

"It would be unconscionable for us not to give FDA-approved inoculations that have been around for 30 years."

About 318,000 people have been immunized so far, according to a statement issued by the Pentagon, and "very few have had serious adverse reactions. The anthrax vaccine is as safe as the common vaccines used in America today."

The statement blames the refusals on "misinformation gained through the Internet, grassroots activism, and adverse media attention."

Others disputed the Pentagon figures. Dr. Meryl Nass, an anthrax expert from Freeport, Maine, said today that one study found 45 percent of those who received shots experienced some adverse reaction, and 10-15 percent had chronic illness. Reactions include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, diarrhea and double vision.

"We don't know the full extent of the problem because the Department of Defense hasn't collected or released" detailed information, she said.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Honolulu, a member of the House Armed Services Committee that might review the anti-vaccinations proposals, supports the Defense Department's position, according to an aide, and has found no evidence that the inoculations pose serious problems.

But the GOP lawmakers are adamant, and claim they are gaining support.

"There is a great deal of interest beginning to develop," said Jones.

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