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CNN Today

'Paucity of Science' Spurs Anthrax Vaccine Controversy

Aired February 17, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program is a gigantic mistake that needs to be corrected. That's according to a congressional subcommittee that issued a stern report today, calling for an end to the mandatory immunizations. The Defense Department ordered all 2.4 million U.S. military personnel to get shots. Today's report says that controversial decision was based on what it calls "a paucity of science."

CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The congressional report found there is not enough scientific evidence that this vaccine actually can reduce the threat of air-borne anthrax to troops, and, given the risk of adverse reactions, more studies should be done.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: This program be suspended as a mandatory force-wide program until we develop a better vaccine.

O'CONNOR: The Pentagon says it stands by the program, which their records indicate has seriously affected only about a dozen people, and has no plans to stop vaccinating troops.

This subcommittee is also recommending the Pentagon study long- term those who have already been immunized. More than 380,000 service members have gone through the full course of six vaccinations over 18 months. More than 300 have refused, resulting in some 30 court- martials and several hundred others being punished administratively. Many military personnel, particularly in reserve forces, say they have left the services to avoid the vaccine.

With the military having difficulty attracting new recruits and re-enlisting those that they have, members of Congress say this is a high price to pay for the country and the military.

SHAYS: They don't want to leave. They wanted to stay in until full retirement. But they may be airline pilots and they are not going to risk an adverse effect.

O'CONNOR: While the Pentagon points to Food and Drugs Administration approval as proof the vaccine is safe, the FDA studies were on a small group of workers who dealt with farm animals, not from an air-borne form of the virus.

With at least 10 potential adversaries putting the biological agent into weapons, the Pentagon insists this is a very real threat and one they must protect troops from.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'CONNOR: Now, members of Congress say they are not dismissing that threat. But they do say that they feel the vaccination should be voluntary with informed consent, telling troops the risks and the potential benefits of the vaccine.

They also say that, basically, more studies should be done and a better vaccine with better science should be developed -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Eileen O'Connor in Washington.

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