a shot in the dark




A Shot in the Dark
Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the United States along with the United Nations has struggled with Saddam Hussein to locate his “weapons of mass destruction”. Saddam’s persistence and dubious manner towards the United States military has raised concern for military protection. To combat biological threats, Secretary of Defense William Cohen implemented a mandatory military wide vaccination of all military members. Since the inception of the program, the program has been the subject of criticism by military members, Veteran Associations, Doctors, and many Senators on Capital Hill. The criticisms have stirred questions regarding the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Questions that the military has not given clear answers to. Until the many questions regarding the vaccine are answered, service members should not be forced to undergo the vaccination program against anthrax.
Bacillus anthracis or anthrax is bacteria that infect thousands of people a year worldwide. Mostly found in the hinds and hair of grazing animals like cattle and sheep, the bacteria can stay dormant for years until contacted. Contact can occur through broken skin, eating infected meat, or inhaling infected dust from hides through the mouth or nostrils. Normal contact through the skin begins forming malignant skin ulcers that are dark black in appearance. If left untreated, the blisters lead to blood poisoning and eventually death. Eating contaminated meat not fully cooked can cause intestinal infection also leading to death. Surprisingly, many people survive contact of the skin and very few cases of intestinal infection exist. However, inhalation of infected dust or spores are much more deadly because the symptoms resemble a common cold. Once inside the lungs, the bacteria induces coughing and high fever within 24 hours. The bacteria multiply by eating tissue eventually causing internal bleeding, shock, and death within 36 hours. Protection against aerosolized anthrax is unknown, but exposure to skin can be reduced through early recognition, antibiotics, and vaccination (Eitzen et al. 1-3).
The vaccine that is being questioned is produced exclusively by the Michigan Biologic Products Institute. In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for controlled use in high-risk occupations. Veterinarians and agricultural laborers were given the vaccine to prevent contracting anthrax through the mishandling of animals and animal products (Anthrax n.pag.). The vaccination process consists of six doses administered over an 18-month period, then followed by annual booster shots. To accommodate the Department of Defense (DOD) Anthrax program, thousands of batches had to be produced quickly.
During mass production, the Michigan Biologics Products Institute has come under disapproval for illegal manufacturing practices. Since 1993, the FDA has cited the Michigan plant several times on quality control. A year before the military was to start the program; an investigation conducted by the FDA found the following problems. Mixing of different batches, replacing old batches with new expiration dates, weakened harvest filters used in producing the vaccine serum, and no documentation of tests performed for contaminants in the vaccine batches. One particular batch manufactured on April 13, 1993 was relabeled Feb. 6, 1998 and sent to the USS Independence in the Persian Gulf where thousands of sailors were given the vaccine. Astonishingly, the FDA did not shut down the anthrax production line at the Michigan plant. However, in a letter written by the FDA’s senior advisor for regulatory operations stated, “Significant improvements must be made prior to continuing production of the vaccine” (Hafem n.pag.). Facts related to the FDA’s lenient attitude towards the Michigan plant are unknown, but suspicions lead to Department of Defense pressure.
Secretary of Defense, William Cohen proposed the mandatory vaccination of all active and reservist military personnel on May 18, 1998. Cohen concluded, “The vaccination is the safest way to protect highly mobile US military forces against a threat that is 99 percent lethal to unprotected individuals”(Anthrax n.pag.). The program will consist of four phases of inoculation starting the summer of 1998. By the year 2003, every service member will be fully protected; including new recruits.
Military members that refuse to participate in the program face serious charges of disobeying a “direct order.” Consequences result in loss of pay and benefits, demotion in rank, complete discharge from the military,