- Many service members are putting their careers on the
line, refusing to take the shot.
- Kevin Edwards started feeling sick about a month after
his third anthrax shot.
- The Army specialist, who was based in Korea when he fell
ill in November 1998, thought it was just the flu.
- ëëI really didn't think much of it at the time,''
Edwards said. ëëAs it progressed, it just felt different than
- Edwards is a 1989 graduate of Terry Sanford High School.
He is 28 years old.
- Nobody can say for certain what caused Edwards' illness.
- All anybody can really agree on is that whatever he came
down with was gruesome to look at -- and it almost killed him.
- Edwards thinks the anthrax vaccine made him ill. Hundreds
of other service members are putting their military careers on the line,
refusing the vaccine because they fear the same thing could happen to them.
- When Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina saw pictures
of Edwards laid up in an Army hospital, he could barely keep his composure.
- ëëI was horrified,'' he said. ëëI
have actually kept those photographs. But I don't look at them.''
- Bleeding sores covered the soldier's body. He looked
as if he had been burned head to toe.
- In fact, the Army treated him like a burn victim. With
a hole punched in his throat so he could breathe, he was flown from South
Korea to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, so he could
be treated by the Army's best burn specialists.
- Army medical officials' diagnoses ranged from an adverse
reaction to anti-inflammatories to Steven Johnson Syndrome to staphylococcal
scalded skin syndrome. Both syndromes are considered exfoliating skin disorders,
which can cause skin lesions and scarring.
- Edwards, his family and his lawyer think his illness
was caused by his anthrax vaccinations.
- ëëThe timetable seems irrefutable,'' said Todd
Conormon, a Fayetteville lawyer who specializes in military law and who
is examining legal options for the soldier. ëëIt seems to me
more likely than not that this was a reaction to the anthrax (vaccine)
-- particularly in the absence of any other logical cause.
- Edwards was flown from South Korea to Brooke Army Medical
Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, so he could be treated by the Army's
best burn specialists. ëëIt would seem to me that no reasonable
person could look at the sequence of events and conclude that Kevin's reaction
was anything but an adverse reaction to the anthrax vaccination. It would
be disingenuous to suggest that there was some other cause.''
- While some military doctors told Edwards his illness
was not related to his anthrax vaccine, Edwards' medical records indicate
- In September of last year, the Army took the unusual
step of exempting Edwards from his last three remaining anthrax shots.
- On Dec. 10, 1999, doctors at Brooke Army Medical Center,
at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, filed an anthrax ëëadverse event
report'' with the Center for Disease Control to see if there was a ëëcorrelation''
between the vaccine and Edwards' illness.
- And they also filled out a follow-up ëëanthrax
adverse event'' form on Jan. 5.
- Army officials would not comment on Edwards' case because
it is ëëongoing.''
- ëëIt would be inappropriate to comment on the
specifics of the case until the proper authoritative agencies have concluded
their work,'' said Craig Martin, a spokesman for Brooke Army Medical Center.
- Rep. Jones, who has written letters to the military on
Edwards' behalf, said the anthrax vaccine cannot be ruled out as a possible
cause of Edwards' illness.
- Mandated vaccine
- The Department of Defense requires that its troops be
given a series of shots to make them immune from anthrax exposure.
- Through November, nearly 358,000 service members had
received 1.2 million doses of the vaccine.
- Military officials say the vaccine is the safest way
to protect U.S. forces against the deadly bacterial disease.
- Anti-terrorism experts say anthrax is a threat to U.S
forces because it can be sprayed into the air, or delivered to the battlefield
by armies using ballistic missiles.
- Between now and 2003, the vaccine will be given to the
entire U.S. military force -- about 2.4 million people.
- ëëAnthrax vaccine is safe and effective,''
said Lt. Col. Gaston Randolph, who works with the Office of the Army Surgeon
General. ëëThere is a vast array of compelling scientific evidence
to support this claim: 44 years of experience with this vaccine, 30 years
of commercial use, and 12 studies involving the safety of the vaccine.
Repeated safety studies conclude most side effects are comparable to other
- As the vaccinations continue, a number of American service
members have complained about being forced to take the shots.
- Jones, the North Carolina Third District congressman,
is sponsoring a bill to make the program voluntary. Jones is a member of
the House National Security Committee. His district includes Seymour Johnson
Air Force Base.
- He said he has had dozens of calls from service members
who have had reactions to the vaccines or don't agree with the military's
- He has 32 co-sponsors for his bill. He says he is gaining
sponsors by the week.
- Jones said there are too many questions surrounding the
vaccine not to allow service members to decide on their own if they want
to take it.
- He cites General Accounting Office reports that are critical
of the manufacturing process of the vaccine. He cites the Army's inability
to rule out the anthrax vaccine as a cause for Edwards' illnesses.
- ëëYou have to question, is this shot safe?''
Jones said. ëëThere is never going to be a shot that's 100 percent
safe. But there are too many questions.''
- Jones said the State Department, which often operates
in places where there is a high threat of terrorism, has a voluntary anthrax
program for its employees.
- Refusal consequences
- Military members who refuse the shots face court-martial.
- A number of service members, including Air Force Maj.
Sonnie Bates, may lose their careers over the issue. Bates is the highest-ranking
service member to face disciplinary action for his refusal to take the
shots. He was recently featured on ì60 Minutes.î
- ëëIt is a tragedy in this country when men
and women in uniform would leave the military or be willing to be court-martialed
over this shot,'' Jones said.
- Dr. Peter Gilligan is an associate professor at the University
of North Carolina School of Medicine. He is knowledgeable on anti-terrorism
issues and works in two departments at UNC -- microbiology and immunology,
and pathology and laboratory medicine.
- He said the anthrax vaccine is probably safe for most
people who take it.
- ëëI don't think (Defense Secretary) Bill Cohen
would take this vaccine if he thought it was dangerous,'' he said. ëëBut
I understand the fear these folks have. We just don't know enough about
- He said delayed reactions -- Edwards' illness began a
month after his third shot -- are not the norm.
- ëëI'm not going to say never,'' he said. ëëBut
it is much more convincing if it is close by.''
- But he said he takes a ëënever-say-never''
attitude on whether anthrax might be the cause of Edwards' illnesses.
- Edwards and his father say the batch of vaccine he took
could have been contaminated. Edwards' lawyer is researching the issue.
- The General Accounting Office has reported manufacturing
problems. It said the Food and Drug Administration found manufacturing
deficiencies in a 1998 inspection. Those deficiencies included some ìthat
might affect only one or a limited number of batches that were produced
and those that could compromise the safety and efficacy of any or all batches.''
- The Army said there were no irregularities with Edwards'
- ëëLot 017, like all other lots released by
the FDA, passed tests for potency, purity, sterility and general safety
prior to release,'' said Gaston Randolph of the Office of the Army Surgeon
General. ëëNo lot has been associated with more serious adverse
events than any other lot.''
- Gilligan, the UNC microbiologist, said Edwards' illnesses
might have been caused by a virus.
- But he said the military should do more to ëëunderstand
what the risks are and make the adverse reactions well known.''
- He said military experience should make officials more
curious about potential long-term effects.
- ëëNo one ever thought, ëOh, Agent Orange
causes cancer,''' he said. ëëThe Army and military needs to be
carefully studying this vaccine.''
- Randolph said the Army has seen no long-term side effects
associated with the vaccine.
- And more important, Randolph said, ëëWe have
not found any disease that is occurring more often among vaccinated troops
than is expected among unvaccinated troops.''
- Gilligan, the microbiologist, said he doesn't want the
big picture to get lost in this one case.
- ëëThe basic theory about vaccines -- as it
has always been -- is we talk about it as the greater good,'' he said.
ëëVaccines have saved countless number of lives in this world.''
- Gilligan said ëëthere is always going to be
a risk that somebody might have a negative reaction to the vaccine.''
- Soldier's life on hold
- Toney Edwards, Kevin Edwards' father, has cancer that
he said he got from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
- The pesticide was sprayed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail
to defoliate the jungle canopy so U.S. aircraft pilots could better see
- Toney Edwards fears his son could have long-term health
problems, like the ones he is experiencing from Agent Orange exposure.
- ëëI can see the writing on the wall,'' he said,
tears welling in his eyes in an interview in Fayetteville recently.
- Toney Edwards works in Fayetteville for Mutual Realtors.
- His son is now out of the hospital. He works at Fort
Sam Houston greeting people, answering phones and shredding paper.
- He is developing chronic eye problems, which require
him to put drops in his eyes every few minutes. Scarring from his illness
has damaged his eyes, he said.
- He wears sunglasses often. Soldiers in the dining hall
often tell him to take them off because they don't meet the military dress
- He is scared to take medicine, worried that his body
will react as it did before.
- At one point in November 1998, Army officials called
to tell his parents he might not make it.
- Open rashes and blisters were all over him. Internally,
he said it felt as though he had swallowed hot coals.
- He can recall portions of the time he was sick: the flight
home, the five trips he made to the clinic in two days seeking help from
the pain, the medics who told him he was just dehydrated when he went in
- ëëA lot of it was a blur,'' he said. ëëThe
pain was clear.''
- ëëWhen I was going through it, I literally
prayed for death,'' he said. ëëI made my peace with God. It hurt
- At Fort Sam Houston, his father and mother went to see
- His father grabbed his hand and squeezed. The son, who
could not speak or see, squeezed back.
- ëëThey gave me a lot of comfort,'' Kevin Edwards
- It made him want to live. A month later, he was able
to be released.
- Now, more than a year and four months later, he said
he has little to look forward to.
- Once, he entertained a passion for music. He majored
in music at Fayetteville State University, where he played the trumpet.
He is single and enjoys watching sports.
- At work, he used to be a soldier with a secret clearance
and a job in a signal unit.
- It had meaning, he said. He loved his job. He loved the
- Now he fears he is losing his sight.
- The dryness in his eyes causes him constant discomfort.
He can't ride in cars with the windows down.
- Where once he looked forward to a successful military
career, now he looks forward to treatment days.
- He said he understands that the military must do what
it can to protect troops from anthrax. But he questions whether the military
is going about it the right way.
- ëëThey should sit back and consider whether
this should be mandatory and whether it is safe,'' he said. ëëI
do what I'm told. I did that. And this is what happened.''
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