16 Gulf troops refuse to take anthrax shots
In this report:
April 8, 1998
Soldiers in gas masks during the 1991 Gulf War
Web posted at: 9:10 p.m. EDT (0110 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fourteen sailors and two Air Force enlisted personnel serving in the Persian Gulf have refused to be vaccinated for the biological warfare agent anthrax, apparently due to fears of possible health effects, CNN has learned.
Two sailors have been dismissed from the Navy and one member of the Air Force has been reduced in rank for refusing the inoculation. A dozen other troops also face punishment.
Military spokesmen say two airmen and seven sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and seven sailors aboard the carrier USS Independence have refused the vaccine that has already been given to 15,000 Navy personnel in the Gulf.
Opposition to the inoculations apparently began several weeks ago when the first of the shots were being administered to the more than 37,000 U.S. military personnel now in the Gulf region.
The refusals appear to stem from an "investigational drug" given to U.S. troops before the 1991 Gulf War to protect them against nerve gas. Although it has not been proven, many veterans suspect that the nerve gas vaccine may be responsible for illnesses suffered after the war by troops stationed there.
The Pentagon admits that it did not adequately inform the troops during the Gulf War about the vaccines, but says it is doing a much better job now.
"They've done better, frankly, in the last year, 18 months," says Phil Budahn of the American Legion. "But we still have that legacy of years of stonewalling, years of not telling the truth to the American people."
Anthrax vaccine fully licensed
U.S. troops have little choice but to roll up their sleeves
The anthrax vaccine is not investigational or experimental and has been in use for decades without any apparent ill effects.
"As far as the risks," says Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck, the Army Surgeon General, "the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved this vaccine since 1970. It's fully licensed." 153K/14 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Two sailors aboard the Stennis were discharged from the Navy for "disobeying a lawful general order."
Lt. Cmdr. Mark McDonald, a spokesman for the Navy's U.S. Atlantic Fleet, told CNN that the two sailors had previous discipline problems that "demonstrated a pattern" of misconduct that contributed to their dismissal.
The two members of the Air Force, one of them a woman, were also disciplined, but only one was reduced in rank. It is not clear what action was taken against the other.
The punishment for the remaining five objectors aboard the Stennis includes 30 days restriction to the ship, 30 days extra duty, reduction in pay for one month and reduction in rank. None of the sailors was above the rank of "E-4", a very junior rank.
A Navy spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaii said that the seven sailors aboard the Independence received similar punishment, but that none were expected to be dismissed.
'That's why they call them orders'
Whether, and under what conditions, those who refused to take the vaccine will be inoculated is still being sorted out by officials. But continued refusal could lead to further discipline, including expulsion.
All members of the U.S. military are required to receive the vaccine, although those serving in the Persian Gulf got them first because of possible conflict there with Iraq.
Marine and Army officials say that none of their service members have refused to take the inoculations, and officers at the Pentagon were not very forgiving of those who did refuse.
"It's not an option," said one.
"It's not like you get to decide what inoculations you take," said a Navy officer. "That's why they call them orders."
Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.