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Special Event

Rep. Shays: Congressional Subcommittee Recommends Ending Mandatory, Force-Wide Anthrax Vaccinations

Aired February 17, 2000 - 9:33 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we want to take you to the nation's capitol, where Representative Christopher Shays is holding a news conference on the anthrax immunization program and his House subcommittee's opinion on what should be done about it.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: ... a force-wide program until we develop a better vaccine. This is 1950s technology. It takes six shots, it was licensed in the '60s and '70s but it takes six shots. This is a vaccine that's used to help people protect people from anthrax who deal with farm animals. It's -- the disease is transmitted by getting under the skin, and our military rightfully so, has identified the fact that there are at least 10 nations that have anthrax as a weaponized -- as they have weaponized anthrax, in both the Middle East and the Korea and China theater.

The problem is, we believe, that the military has acted too quickly and has not done what is necessary, and that is to develop a drug that is modern, that doesn't take six shots, that is a cleaner drug, and we are suggesting that, in the meantime, that this be a voluntary program, that we recognize that it is an off-label use. This drug, this vaccine, has not been approved as a prophylactic against transmittal by air. This, in a sense, is an off-label drug and, therefore, we consider, an investigative drug.

So, in addition to withdrawing it as a mandatory, force-wide program, we believe that the FDA and others should treat it as an investigative drug, which means informed consent. It means you tell the military personnel what they're taking and why and what kind of vaccine it is and so on, and the potential side effects, and they get to make that decision. The president can overrule that and make it mandatory, but he has to take that action. And we're saying that if he feels he should. For instance, special forces that go into the Middle East or elsewhere where there's a potential, he may decide to make it mandatory.

What are the consequences of what are happening right now? The consequences are that we have some men and women who are getting sick. Now, most have some adverse reaction, but it's minimal. Some have a stronger one, and some have systemic reactions. And what we are seeing, and it's tragic, we are seeing some of our military in the active force being court-martialed because they simply refuse to taking this vaccine, and we have others in the National Guard and the Reserves who are taking the option to leave. They don't want to leave; the wanted to stay in until full retirement. But they may be airline pilots, and they are not going to risk an adverse effect and then call into question their ability to perform their commercial mission.

And what makes this tragic is we are having a difficult time getting people to join our armed forces, all four branches, we are having a difficult time having them reenlist, and now we are saying a mandatory program for people who will never even be in the theater where they will need it. I want to reiterate, we know that the motives were good of the military. We think they have made a gigantic mistake.

And I'll add one more point and then call on my colleagues: It's sole-sourced (ph). It's provided by BioTech. They have been cited on many occasions. The plant has been shut down, we've renegotiated the price twice and there is a question whether they can produce the amount they have to. When you take six shots, it takes 18 months. You're supposed to keep accurate reports. The military has not kept accurate records. They are not willing to be fully disclosing to us what people have resigned and left the National Guard and the Reserve because they don't want to take anthrax. The implication sometimes is they left but they left for other reasons.

I said I'd conclude; I'll conclude here and just say: We had a general testify, and he said there were no adverse affects, and we had three witnesses that followed sitting behind him who were then going to testify. There are adverse effects, we need to know the extent of them, and so in the meantime we are recommending that we discontinue a mandatory force-wide program and that we make sure that you have informed consent.

And I'd like to introduce Mr. Souter, who is the vice chairman of the committee...

KAGAN: We've been listening to Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut as a House subcommittee report calls for a halt to the program to vaccinate all 2.4 million -- 2.4 million American service troops against anthrax in biological warfare. This has been a mandatory program, but the representative today, the congressman calling this 1950s flawed technology, calling it a flawed vaccine, a big mistake by the military to make this mandatory. The congressman did admit that anthrax is a real threat but said that the vaccination should be a voluntary program. We should also mention that the Pentagon and the FDA have repeatedly said that they believe the anthrax vaccination is safe.

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