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Anthrax shots come under GOP fire

By Audrey Hudson
House Republicans want the Defense Department to eliminate mandatory anthrax vaccines until long-term health studies on potential harmful side effects can be done.
They said yesterday that reports of adverse reactions to the vaccine have damaged military morale and prompted many military people to resign.
"Our military readiness is at stake," said Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., North Carolina Republican.
Mr. Jones, along with Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee, announced two pieces of legislation during a press briefing. One bill would make the program voluntary rather than mandatory, the other would suspend the program until the National Institutes of Health conducted a study.
"The two bills differ in their approach to the problem, but they have a common goal to halt the mandatory aspect of the anthrax vaccination program," Mr. Gilman said.
"Since the announcement of the mandatory vaccination program in 1997, a growing number of military personnel -- particularly Guard and Reservists -- have chosen to resign rather than take what may be an unsafe anthrax vaccine," Mr. Jones said.
"Now military personnel across the country are struggling with their options," Mr. Jones said.
The legislation is getting support from the other side of the aisle.
"When five Republicans are questioning the Department of Defense, you know something is wrong," said Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat.
"When five Marines are court-martialed because they are concerned they may not be fit for duty if they take a vaccine, and when 30 percent of the pilots in a reserve unit resign rather than take this vaccine, we have clear signals that something is wrong," said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican.
Anthrax is a potentially fatal bacterial infection and is the primary biological warfare threat faced by U.S. forces.
Mr. Burton, who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform, also held a hearing yesterday on whether the risks of many vaccines outweigh public benefits.
One Defense Department employee testified that her health deteriorated severely after receiving an anthrax vaccine. She said she was concerned about her daughter, a first lieutenant in the Air Force, who also was being ordered to take the vaccine.
"I believe that I experienced deleterious effects from the vaccines and that my daughter would also since she shares my biological makeup," said Antonia Spaith, international project manager in the chemical and biological elimination branch.
Mr. Burton's committee, which has been investigating the vaccine program, says members of the military are afraid to come forward.
"We learned that there is fear in the ranks about reporting and that the Department of Defense filters their reports before sending them to the Food and Drug Administration," Mr. Burton said.

Copyright 1999 News World Communications, Inc.


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