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Friday, October 13, 2000

Isle officials question
military anthrax study

By Gregg K. Kakesako

A just-released government study says the military's mandatory anthrax inoculation program is the major reason pilots and air crew members are leaving the reserves, but local officials say they don't have information to back up those findings.

Since the mandatary anthrax shots were started in August 1998, 600 of the Hawaii Air National Guard's 2,500 pilots, air crew members and other personnel have started the series of six shots spread over 18 months.

"As far as we know officially ... no one has left the Guard because they have not taken their anthrax shots, nor have we kicked anyone out," said Capt. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman.

Several Hawaii Air National Guard personnel reportedly did not reenlist because they were unwilling to be court-martialed for refusing the vaccine, but were concerned about possible adverse health effects.

Asked about personnel here refusing to reenlist under threat of a court-martial, Anthony said, "It's possible. We just don't know."

Anthony acknowledged that the Pentagon's mandatory inoculation program resulted in "a dozen or so" Air Guard personnel reluctantly submitting to the shots after talking with medical personnel.

He said "only a handful, no more than five or six" personnel in the Hawaii Air National Guard have completed the series of inoculations.

The Government Accounting Office study released this week said 829 current and former members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve were surveyed in the past five months. It found that about 25 percent of pilots and air crew members have left the military, transferred to other units or moved to inactive status since September, 1998.

More than 176,000 people belong to the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. About 13,000 of them are pilots or air crew members.

The Pentagon wants to inoculate all 2.4 million personnel on active duty and in the reserves because it considers the deadly anthrax virus a potential weapon.

The numbers of those who have refused are not well publicized, but believed to be several hundred. A dozen or so have been court-martialed while others have been allowed to leave military service.

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