ANTHRAX: Air Force Reserve Pilots Protest Vaccine, Claim Unfair Treatment
Air Force Reserve pilots are protesting the federal government's order for anthrax vaccination and allege that military commanders are "retaliating against those who refuse it," the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. Reserve members say superior officers at Travis Air Force Base are "blocking transfers into units that do not require the six-shot regimen, leaving them in administrative limbo," and knocking "good years" off their records that can affect their retirement pensions (Lindlaw, 3/21). Many of the reservists make their living working for commercial airlines and say they owe it to their passengers and crew to be in the best physical health. But the military maintains that the vaccine is safe, noting that over 400,000 service men and women have been inoculated and only 620 have reported adverse effects (Pyle, Los Angeles Times, 3/21).
Since ordering that all active and reserve troops be inoculated in 1998, the Department of Defense has come under attacks for the requirement. Defense Secretary William Cohen argues that "it would be irresponsible to send soldiers and fliers into combat without such protection." But Mark Zaid, who is providing legal representation for reservists refusing the anthrax vaccine, disagreed, saying that "many reservists are unlikely to go to such hot spots." (AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/21). He added that the numbers are "meaningless" because many problems go unreported (Los Angeles Times, 3/21). Zaid also claimed that the adverse reaction rate is 175 times higher than Pentagon reports and pointed to a GAO investigation that was "unable to determine" the vaccine's safety or efficacy (Wilson, Sacramento Bee, 3/21). Lt. Col. Rick Morris, a reservist who works for Delta Airlines, said, "There is a time for blind obedience; we know that. But this is not wartime, (and) everybody's being told to close [their] eyes" (Los Angeles Times, 3/21).