- 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- The pilots rescinded their resignation letters so they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,
- 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,"
- "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
- 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
- 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.
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