Leadership: February 19, 2000

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The Pentagon has flatly rejected a Congressional call to suspend its mandatory program of anthrax immunizations for military personnel. A Congressional committee had called for the suspension, noting that some individuals had expressed concern that the vaccine was not safe. The report categorized the Pentagon program as "overwrought" and said that it relied on an overestimation of both the threat of the virus and the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine. The Pentagon, insisting that the vaccine was safe and effective, noted that ten nations around the world (including Iraq and North Korea) have stockpiled anthrax as a weapon and more were trying to, and that without the immunization program thousands of these soldiers would "die a horrible death" in a future conflict. The Pentagon said that the Congressional report was based largely on claims and concerns which the Pentagon had already refuted or disproved. Some 400,000 military personnel have taken the vaccine. Of these, 620 had reactions (flu-like symptoms) but only 70 were traced to the vaccine. Some 26 people have been hospitalized for their reactions, but only six were traced to the vaccine. Some 351 military personnel have refused to take the injections; most of them have faced administrative punishment or discharge.--Stephen V Cole

 


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