Airman Refuses Vaccine -
Faces Court-Martial
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) - An Air Force airman faces a possible court-martial for refusing an anthrax vaccine that some servicemen fear may be linked to Gulf War illnesses.
The Pentagon has ordered the shot for all 1.5 million active-duty service members and 1 million reservists. Airman 1st Class Jeff Bettendorf refused, and was told he could be court-martialed as early as Friday.
Military officials insist the vaccine is safe and necessary because rogue nations such as Iraq are suspected of storing anthrax in their arsenals.
Anthrax is an infectious disease that occurs naturally in livestock. Its dry spores can be stored in weapons and even microscopic amounts can be fatal.
But Bettendorf and other military personnel have complained about possible side effects of the vaccine, including headaches, nausea and dizziness. Critics also worry it could lead to cancer, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome and infertility.
More than a dozen Marines have refused the shot.
''I can tell you there are a lot of people who are afraid of getting this shot,'' Bettendorf said.
Some Gulf War troops blame experimental vaccines given during the 1991 conflict for illnesses they contracted.
Under military law, anyone convicted in a summary court-martial faces 30 days of confinement, a demotion in rank and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month. Conviction would not mean a dishonorable discharge from the military.
Defense Secretary William Cohen in 1997 ordered development of a program to inoculate troops against anthrax. All military forces are expected to be immunized by 2004 or 2005. An annual booster shot is needed.
Some members of the military have previously refused the shot and some have been discharged.
Travis spokesman Maj. Mike Halbig said if Bettendorf is punished, it will be because of a refusal to follow an order.