[ OUR OPINION ]
Keep anthrax vaccine
on the shelf for now
WHEN the military began ordering U.S. troops to be vaccinated against anthrax five years ago, many service men and women refused and were punished. In response to a federal judge's ruling that it was wrong to make service members "serve as guinea pigs," the Pentagon has suspended the compulsory vaccinations. Further research and pharmaceutical approval is needed before the vaccine is forced upon another member of the armed services or civilian contractor.
The Pentagon has suspended mandatory vaccination of U.S. troops against anthrax after a judge ruled it to be against the law.
Believing Iraq and other nations had produced anthrax weapons, the Clinton administration ordered the military to be immunized in 1997. The mandatory inoculations began the following year, and 14 Kaneohe Marines and three Pearl Harbor sailors refused. Those and other refusals at military bases around the country resulted in sanctions such as demotions and fines or expulsions.
The vaccination program was disrupted after the only manufacturer was unable to obtain a license from the Food and Drug Administration. The program was resurrected as the Bush administration prepared to send troops to Afghanistan and later Iraq. As U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Washington, D.C., spelled out in a 33-page ruling this week, the Defense Department had been wrong in making the vaccinations mandatory from the very beginning.
The government had approved the vaccine in 1970 but never specified which method of anthrax exposure it was supposed to protect against. However, it was clearly intended for treatment of anthrax skin infections, not inhalation of anthrax. A 1996 application to the FDA to authorize its use against inhaled anthrax is still pending.
A manufacturer's advisory, inserted with the vaccine, which originally estimated the rate of adverse reaction at 0.2 percent, was revised to indicate a range from 5 percent to 35 percent. The vaccine is said to contain "positive evidence of risk" to pregnant women, a greater risk than earlier indicated.
More than a million military personnel and employees of military contractors have taken the vaccine. The lawyer for six people who were ordered to take it said it has caused several deaths and thousands of illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes and a form of meningitis. Federal officials maintain that only 105 adverse reactions have been reported among the first 830,000 people receiving the injections.
"It is impossible to tell with any certainty what the long-term effects of the vaccination will be," Judge Sullivan wrote.
A 1998 law enacted by Congress prohibits the government's use of drugs for an unapproved use without the person's permission unless the president has signed a waiver determining that obtaining consent is not feasible or is "not in the interests of national security." That would be a rash decision, since the "thousands of pounds of anthrax agent" figured by the Pentagon to be "loaded into missiles, aerial bombs and spray tanks" in Iraq have not surfaced.
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JUDGES are obliged to step aside when presented with a case in which they may have a conflict of interest, and former Judge David L. Fong says he did that when any case involving his wife's business came into his court. However, the Hawaii judicial code goes further than that, requiring judges to avoid interests that might "demean the judicial office." The state Supreme Court's rebuke of Fong this week for failing to disclose his wife's ownership of a building alleged to have been a frequent crime scene should serve as an admonition to sitting judges.
Judges should disclose
nice, avoid naughty
Former District Judge David L. Fong has been censured by the Supreme Court for violating the ethical code for judges.
Fong was questioned by the Star-Bulletin in June 2001 about allegations of crime at hostess bars that were tenants of the Sheridan Street building owned and managed by his wife, Connie You Fong, from 1991 to 1998. By the time the newspaper reported the situation two weeks later, the Commission on Judicial Conduct had begun an investigation, according to Gerald Sekiya, its chairman.
Fong, who retired from the District Court bench last year, claimed at the time that he "was never notified of any kind of illegal activity" at the property. "Nobody ever inquired of me. I was never aware of anything illegal." Fong became a part-time judge in 1981 and a full-time judge in 1996.
While part-time, he was the private attorney for one of the hostess bars when it was cited by the Liquor Commission for failing to prevent prostitution and allowing sexual contact between employees and customers. One prostitution arrest at the bar had resulted in a conviction, and complaints about prostitution, drugs and gambling had been made while Fong's wife owned the building.
In its censure of Fong, the Supreme Court concluded that he had been "at least aware" of the alleged criminal activity. His conduct, the court said, had "cast his judicial office into disrepute." The censure should cause judges to make sure their financial interests not only are disclosed but are squeaky clean as well.