Friday, May 06, 2005

Military Vaccines Trigger Special Treatment for 1,200

By David Ruppe
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON - Approximately 1,200 U.S. military personnel who received
vaccinations against biological agents during the past two years
complex, in some cases debilitating, illnesses that were assessed or
by a specialized network of clinics, according to figures released to
Security Newswire by the U.S. Army and a review of some cases (see GSN,
April 25).

The cases, corresponding with a massive Defense Department effort to
vaccinate U.S. forces against anthrax and smallpox before and after the
invasion of Iraq, included muscle and joint weakness and pain, chronic
fatigue, intense migraines, cognitive problems, and severe diseases
such as
multiple sclerosis. Some of these have ended military careers.

More common and less serious side effects from the vaccines are said to
include temporary headaches, fatigue, fever, nausea and dizziness.

In light of the large number people who received the vaccines, the
number of
serious cases treated by the Vaccine Health Care Centers, a network of
clinics at domestic U.S. military bases, is rare. Overall, the military
more than 1.3 million military and civilian personnel have received the
anthrax vaccine, called Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed, since 1998, when it
resumed the vaccinations after a hiatus over quality control problems.
military has also vaccinated hundreds of thousands of personnel, many
also received the anthrax treatment, for smallpox beginning in December

The Defense Department, on a Web site that provides information on the
vaccine, maintains the anthrax vaccinations are "as safe as other
and necessary.

None of the personnel treated in fiscal 2004 "has suffered loss of
limb or eyesight," according to a statement from Walter Reed Army
Center, which houses the main Vaccine Healthcare Center in Washington.

Nevertheless, some cases have been quite severe, such as that of
retired Air
Force Reserve Lt. Col. Michael Gylock, who within nine days after
anthrax and smallpox vaccinations in March 2003 started showing
symptoms and
was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and some vision loss.

"I've been retired because of it. I'm not fit for military duty," he
Gylock and other cases were referred to Global Security Newswire by an
advocate of soldiers who believe they were harmed by the vaccine.

Questions have surfaced in recent years about the safety of the anthrax
vaccine, and when massive numbers of personnel are vaccinated, even a
percentage of rare disorders can add up.

Walter Reed said that about 600 anthrax vaccine recipients in fiscal
and 600 in fiscal 2004 received in-depth assessment or treatment by the
centers' staff. In addition, officials have said the Vaccine Healthcare
Centers during the two years conducted more than 250,000 telephone,
or face-to-face communications with personnel or physicians to discuss
reactions, however minor or major, or to provide guidance on how to
avoid or
treat complications.

Sufficient funding for the four Vaccine Healthcare Centers, created by
Congress in 2001 is in question this year. The centers were not
last year in the Pentagon's fiscal 2005 budget and did not receive a
specific congressional appropriation. A nonbinding resolution passed by
Senate urging full funding was stripped from a supplemental
bill this week by leaders from both houses.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon, citing a determination that there is potential
a heightened risk of an anthrax threat to U.S. forces, announced
Tuesday it
would resume providing mass anthrax vaccinations to service members
in South Korea and across the Middle East and South Asia (see related
story, today).

"Without the centers [there are] over 1,000 military personnel who
would not
have gotten the care they deserve, the best possible care we can
Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who had proposed specific funding for
centers, said in a Senate floor speech last month.

"If the department believes it is an emergency to resume that vaccine,
can we consider preserving the Vaccine Health Care Centers any less?"

Quantity of Serious Illnesses Uncertain

While the data on Vaccine Healthcare Center treatments give some
of the numbers and types of rare illnesses that may result from anthrax
smallpox vaccinations, there is no definitive data on how many and
illnesses were caused by the military inoculations.

One reason is that the numbers of cases treated by the centers, and
otherwise identified through its Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting
System, do
not necessarily account for all serious illnesses caused by a vaccine
because military reporting on side effects is passive. In other words,
onus is on the soldiers to seek help from the centers and many are said
be unaware the clinics exist, are unwilling to inform superiors they
have a career-jeopardizing disorder, or have had trouble convincing
authorities of the illness.

As little is understood about how vaccines cause serious illness, some
doctors have appeared reluctant to conclude a vaccination may have
caused a
specific illness, experts have said.

"Because serious problems are rare, it is difficult for the average
physician to develop the expertise needed to provide the best
Biden said in his speech.

In addition, as multiple military vaccines are often given around the
time, researchers have difficulty determining which one might have been
cause of a particular illness, experts have said (see GSN, May 18,

Furthermore, just because a person had experienced adverse events after
those vaccinations, does not necessarily mean the events were caused by
vaccinations, Walter Reed said in a statement.

"Cause-and-effect evaluations require consideration of at least six
timing is only one of those factors. Cause-and-effect evaluations are
difficult in individual cases," it said.

Little Understanding of Causality

Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Rick Brown's case is illustrative of
challenge to understanding causality. A Philadelphia firefighter and
formerly an avid bodybuilder and hockey player, Brown said that soon
receiving anthrax and smallpox vaccinations in March 2003 he
intense pain in muscles and joints and decreased mobility.

"My first indication was a mass on the side of my neck that was about
size of a grape and immediately my body started feeling really bad. I
open mucus membranes throughout my body, oozing out of my ears, my
nose, my
penis, my mouth," he said.

Brown said he was eventually diagnosed with degenerative arthritis,
including joint and muscle aches, and may have had a heart attack. He
also twice ruled unfit for military work after 19 years of service.

"For a while, my muscles turned to jelly, my joints were just all
up," he said.

Brown said he learned of the Vaccine Healthcare Centers from an
search. Military physicians were initially unwilling to send him to a
and unwilling to consider that the anthrax vaccination might be causing
illnesses, he said.

"They said, 'We want to send you to a clinical physiatrist. We want to
heavily medicate you,'" he said.

In a case review delivered to Brown, the Vaccine Healthcare Center at
Reed said it had identified possible side effects from the anthrax
It noted, though, causality between the vaccination and such chronic
has not been proven. The center and another organization are preparing
study that question.

"At the present time, it is impossible to prove or disprove a causal
between the vaccine and chronic problems but efforts are under way . to
collect information regarding these problems and continue to define the
range of the problem," the center said generically in its review of

Brown, who served for a year in Afghanistan until November 2002, "loves
military" and wishes he could resume service, said he might be forced
before he is eligible for retirement, which is in about six months.
put this stuff on the shelf, because a lot of people are getting sick,"

Gylock said an informal Air Force medical board had recommended
him without benefits because the illness was not caused by military
An appeal to a formal board reversed the decision. That board cited a
Vaccine Healthcare Center conclusion that his symptoms may have been
by the anthrax vaccine, he said.

The center, also said, though there is a medical community controversy
whether vaccines can cause multiple sclerosis and that, that "causality
cannot be established."

The Vaccine Healthcare Center's "review of my records was probably the
beneficial thing that happened to me," he said.

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