More Top AF Pilots
Said Resigned Over
Anthrax Vaccinations
By David Castellon
A New York congressman tells a congressional subcommittee more than two dozen Air National Guard pilots from his state's 105th Airlift Wing have resigned rather than receive anthrax vaccinations. A spokeswoman for the wing says nobody resigned over the shots.
Who's telling the truth? Both are -- depending on how you interpret the available information.
And such interpretations are sources of many headaches for people on both sides of the military's anthrax controversy.
For example, a pilot for the 105th at Stewart Air National Guard Base said that at least 23 C-5 Galaxy pilots turned in resignations in the six months prior to October, when the wing was scheduled to begin its first round of mandatory vaccinations.
The pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said wing leaders told the pilots they would hold the letters until the end of December so people would have time to reconsider.
But when Hurricane Floyd hit the East Coast in late September, it knocked out power to the refrigeration system at Stewart, ruining stores of the vaccine. So 105th leaders rescheduled the shots for May, when a new batch of vaccine is due.
The pilots rescinded their resignation letters so they can continue flying -- at least until their immunization time again grows imminent. With no resignation letters in their hands, wing leaders can say they've had nobody resign over the shots.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Maguire, commander of the 105th, would not comment Nov. 23 on whether his pilots did turn in resignation letters.
"I really don't want to discuss this with the Air Force Times. I have talked truthfully ... on the situation involving our anthrax [vaccination program]," he said.
But it's not just supporters of the mandatory vaccinations who may be spinning the facts their own way.
For weeks, messages circulated on the World Wide Web about a Wisconsin Air National Guard member who collapsed from a heart attack after receiving his anthrax shot.
But a spokesman for the 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field said that while a guardsman did experience heart problems after receiving the shot, both civilian and military doctors determined the problem had nothing to do with the vaccine.
Also clouding the issue is the number of unanswerable questions about the vaccine and its effects, said Robert Newman, press secretary for the House Government Reform national security subcommittee, which held several hearings this year on the vaccination program.
Among the most pressing is how many people are leaving the Reserves and Air National Guard over the shots.
"We don't even keep those [statistics]. There is no tracking method for anthrax" because units don't have to ask why people leave a unit or the service, said Jack Hooper, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau in Washington.
An Air Force Reserve spokesman offered similar comments.
Another problem is that some people who initially ask for release from the service or transfers over the shots change their minds, Hooper said.
For example, he said, eight A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from the Connecticut Guard's 103rd Fighter Wing in Hartford asked to be transferred or released from service earlier this year over the vaccinations.
"But when the smoke was clear, only two left," Hooper said.
"Yes, there is a frustration," said Eric Friedman, press secretary for Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the subcommittee.
"For instance, the head of the Air National Guard [Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver] testified under oath that there was only one documented case of people leaving because of the vaccine when there were four people who had departed or transferred sitting behind him when he said it," Friedman said. "[Weaver] later said he meant only one pilot with an outstanding commitment."
Some of the most heated controversy surrounds how many people have suffered side effects from anthrax vaccine. Of the 371,526 people who took the shot as of Nov. 17, 406 reported adverse effects to the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
But several military members who oppose the mandatory anthrax vaccinations say the actual number may be two or three times that. Part of the reason for the discrepancy, they say, is because military doctors are discouraged from filing VEERS reports.
Defense officials have denied those claims.
Maj. Frank Smolinsky, a spokesman for Dover Air Force Base, Del., said claims "that people are walking around sick from the vaccine" at his base are untrue.
Of the 80 Dover cases reported to VEERS, base doctors have linked only five directly to the shots, and those were just mild allergic reactions, Smolinsky said.
He added that the Mayo Clinic's vaccine research group in Minneapolis determined all the symptoms "appear to be explained by pre-existing illnesses, current illnesses, other [accompanying] illnesses or stressors or known side effects of the anthrax vaccine."
But Roxane Bates said that just doesn't jibe with what her husband, Maj. Sonnie Bates, sees when he goes to work as a C-5 pilot at Dover.
Soon after he was assigned there in August, her husband noticed numerous people suffering extreme fatigue, unexplained rashes, brief blackouts, various infections, cysts and severe joint and muscle pain. "I'm talking about people who can't even climb the ladder to get in the airplane," she said.
"Just yesterday a guy came up and told my husband he had cysts up and down his throat," Bates said on Nov. 23.
Bates said her husband, who testified before Shay's committee in October, wouldn't speak anymore on the issue because he is facing a possible court-martial for refusing an anthrax shot. No charges had been filed as of Nov. 23.
Copyright 1999 Army Times Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.


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