Is the Anthrax Vaccine Safe?Aired February 18, 2000 - 3:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. REDMOND HANDY, U.S. AIR FORCE RESERVE (RET.): I was afraid that after seeing people that were sick and meeting them personally and discovering folks who couldn't get rid of joint pains and dizziness and rashes all over...
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (D), CONNECTICUT: The bottom line to our recommendation to the full committee as it relates to anthrax is that this program be suspended as a mandatory force-wide program until we develop a better vaccine.
DR. SUE BAILEY, ASST. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR HEALTH AFFAIRS: We have a very safe and effective vaccine against a very deadly biologic agent that we know to be in the land of many of our adversaries and could be used against our forces.
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LEON HARRIS, GUEST HOST: A House committee sides with the rank and file who refuse an order to be inoculated against anthrax. Is the anthrax vaccine a danger to the military? And should members of the armed forces be allowed to disobey that order? Ask this man why he quit the service rather than enforce the anthrax vaccine program.
Hello and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Leon Harris sitting in for Bobbie Battista this afternoon.
And this afternoon, we talk about how dangerous is the anthrax vaccine? The Pentagon says so far more than 400,000 troops have been inoculated. Of those, 620 reported having some sort of adverse reactions and only six required any hospitalization. But those statistics did not prevent Colonel Redmond Handy from opposing the vaccine. He resigned from the Air Force reserve rather than take the vaccine or force others to take it.
He joins us today, along with Patrick Eddington, a former CIA military analyst and he is the author of "Gassed in the Gulf." He is currently with the James Madison Project, a public advocacy group focusing on First Amendment issues related to national security.
We thank you, gentlemen, both, for coming and joining us this afternoon. I want to begin with you, Lieutenant Colonel Redmond -- Hardy, rather -- Handy. Can you tell us exactly what went into your decision-making to quit the service rather than take this vaccine?
HANDY: I started becoming concerned about the policy when I first noticed that the secretary of defense held up a five-pound bag of flour said if it was dropped off Washington, D.C., half the people would die. That disturbed me. I'm a resident of Washington, D.C., so I started looking into it. And I discovered, first of all, that the Department of Defense was claiming that the reaction rates for this vaccine were as low as .0002 percent. Not only did I find that unbelievable, but I discovered shortly thereafter that Army studies indicated that they were as high as point -- 48 percent. That's one out of every two people who take the vaccine may get severe or systemic reactions outside the local injection site. Now that's quarter of a million times higher than what the department said in the first place, and that bothered me greatly.
HARRIS: Well then why is it that do you believe those figures over and above what your own Department of Defense were telling you?
HANDY: Those were Department of Defense figures. It was Army studies at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii that said that almost one out of every two could get systemic-level reactions. And we don't know what the long-term effects of those systemic reactions are going to be, and the package insert says you should stop the shot after those kind of reactions. So that's a quarter of a million times higher than what the Army was saying earlier. That's saying Mount Everest is a prairie dog mound,
HARRIS: Well. Mr. Eddington, let's go to you on this next question, because the FDA has not had a problem with using it and authorizing its use for some nearly 30 years. Why do you have a problem with it?
PATRICK EDDINGTON, FORMER CIA MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think we need to qualify that, Leon. When this vaccine was originally approved by the FDA in 1970, it was based on very small studies, less than 100 people involved in those studies. It was also approved only for skin or cutaneous anthrax exposure. That is not what the Pentagon is trying to sell this vaccine as a defense. They're trying to say that this vaccine will work if an Iraqi MiG-21, for example, flies over Kuwait City with spray tanks and sprays this stuff all over the place. There is simply no evidence to support the idea that it will actually work.
And I think that what Redmond has been talking about here in terms of the adverse reaction rates is also very important. Our executive director, Mark Zaid, got a letter from Army Surgeon General Walter -- excuse me, Mr. Blank -- General Blanck just about, I guess, the turn of the year. And what he actually admitted in that letter was that the reaction rates were anywhere from five to 35 percent, which, of course, is smaller than even what Redmond is talking about, but it's still much higher than what the Pentagon was originally saying. So I think the real question here is, and the real problem ultimately, is that this vaccine has never been properly evaluated, it's never been properly tested, and that is exactly what Congressman Shays said in his report which was released this week, and that's what the General Accounting Office said in April of 1999, when they commented on this whole question. So it's a real problem. The program needs to be suspended. It needs to be re-evaluated.
You see, Leon, neither Redmond or I are opposed to proper measures to protect our troops. You know, none of us who oppose this current program are against protecting the troops, but there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And the Pentagon is going down the wrong road.
HARRIS: Well, since you bring up this subject, the idea of protecting the troops, one of the things that we keep hearing from Department of Defense officials is that they must do something. It's as simple in their minds as giving every single soldier a helmet. What's wrong with that idea?
EDDINGTON: Well, I think that that's a gross oversimplification take on the part of the Pentagon, and that's a routine tactic that they've been using in this process. The plain fact of the matter is, Leon, we found out during the Gulf War that our gas masks that our troops were using had failure rates of 26 to 44 percent. That problem has yet to be solved. We found out that we had protective suits against chemical warfare that were not nearly as good as they needed to be. That hasn't been solved. And to this day, to this very day, we still do not have a force-wide, real-time biological warfare detection capability fielded.
And what that means in basic terms is we could get hit with a wide variety of things and not know about it until it actually happens. So we need to stop putting the cart before the horse. We need to get proper detection capabilities, we need to get proper masks and suits, and we need to develop measures for dealing with these kinds of threats that are not invasive and don't involve a lot of long-term uncertainties and unnecessary long-term risks. That's the arguments that we're making,
HARRIS: I see.
Well, joining us now is Michael Fumento. He's a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and he's also in Washington this afternoon.
Mr. Fumento, what is your take on all of this?
MICHAEL FUMENTO, HUDSON INSTITUTE: I spent four years in the Army, not as a reservist but active duty in a combat unit. If I were in the Army in that unit today, I would absolutely insist that if the supply were available if I were going into an area where some country had access to this as a weapon -- and 10 countries in fact apparently are using anthrax in their arsenals, so they think it's effective, whether or not Mr. Eddington or anybody else on this show thinks it's effective -- I would insist upon taking this. This is as safe a vaccine as you're going to find. One hundred percent safe? No. But an independent panel that's been working on -- that's been looking at all vaccines distributed in this country since 1990 has found that out of 1.5 million of these vaccinations given, they have found six persons whose reactions were so adverse that they had to be hospitalized. I know that five of those were actually just allergic reactions, I assume number six was as well.
This is as safe a vaccine as you're going to get.
HARRIS: Well let's go back now then to Lieutenant Colonel Handy.
That's not convincing enough to you?
HANDY: Mr. Fumento is absolutely clueless. he has no idea what's going on, in my opinion. I've been -- I spent yesterday and several days at Walter Reed talking with individuals who have been hurt by the vaccine. I've talked with them who have testified. They continue to tell me that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of people who have long-term affects from this vaccine. We're not talking just one shot, we're talking six shots in 18 months and annual boosters. We're talking we have no idea what the long-term impacts of this program are. We've never implemented anything like this before.
HARRIS: OK, well...
HANDY: And we've got...
HARRIS: I'm sorry.
HANDY: We've got people who have been in comas, who have had cysts on their heart, we've got 100 people at Dover Air Force base alone -- you may know about Major Sonnie Bates's situation out there. He's been court-martialled because he came into his unit and he found literally dozens of people at the base who had had severe reactions from this so bad that they haven't been able to fly for a year.
HARRIS: We want to talk about that...
HANDY: And now...
HARRIS: We want to talk about that case a little bit later on, because some of the symptoms that have been mentioned in relationship to this anthrax vaccine issue really run far afield. So we're going to talk about that in just a couple minutes. We also want to apologize for some of the technical glitches we've been having this afternoon.
But we want to take a break right now, straighten some things out. But when we come back, we'll look at what happens when soldiers don't want to follow the rules. We'll talk with CNN's Military Analyst, General Dan Benton, coming up next.
Don't go away.
HARRIS: Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. We're talking this afternoon about the Pentagon's recent decision to continue issuing orders that soldiers and all enlisted men and women take anthrax vaccine shots. That is stirring up a lot of controversy, because there are some people who are saying that they should not be forced to take something that may actually be a threat to their own health and lives.
We're joined now here in Atlanta by Lieutenant General Dan Benton, who's been guest on many of our shows about many other topics. The first time we've had a chance to talk about this.
What exactly, General Benton, is your view on this? Can a soldier basically defy orders in a case like this?
LT. GEN. DAN BENTON, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: Well, Leon, we've had some great discussions in the early part of the show, talking about forced protection and issues such as that. I really think this boils down to an issue of credibility, and it's important to the people in this audience and the listening audience because we're talking about the safety of sons and daughters, of mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and so forth. I really think this is an issue about credibility of the Defense Department in anything involving these types of medical affairs.
The Defense Department had a tremendous problem with Agent Orange back in my earlier generation. Somebody said that it was OK to use Agent Orange. We know the results of that. We still don't know the results of what happened with the Gulf War Syndrome, a tremendous amount of uncertainty and lack of knowledge about what really has caused that.
And now we have this situation with anthrax vaccine. This is sort of strike three. The Defense Department has got to inform the recipients of this vaccine about its long-term benefits, and that was one of the very important aspects of the earlier discussion also. That has not been done yet.
HARRIS: So I take it then that you don't necessarily fault then some of these people, like Sonnie Bates, who is refusing to take this anthrax vaccine. You don't fault those people?
BENTON: Well, I fault anybody that follows direct orders, and the fact it is an order for somebody to take these types of vaccines. People must be deployable in the military forces. It doesn't make any difference if you're a soldier, a sailor, an airman, or a marine, you've got to be deployable. That means you've got to be trained, you've got to be physically fit, you've got to have your dog tags, and you have to have proper immunization. If you're going to go into an area that's got typhoid there, you had better have typhoid vaccinations. If you're going to an area that has potential for Anthrax, you had better have the best things available to protect you from that. So that's the forced-protection aspect. People that don't have those things are not deployable. If they're not deployable, then the units become unready, and so it becomes a readiness issue.
HARRIS: And so then what is wrong with waiting until it is decided that one of these units, or one of these people, are actually going to be sent into a theater, where that may actually be a threat. Why is it so necessary then to vaccinate, what is it, 2.4 million different service people right now?
BENTON: I don't think there's anything wrong to wait. In fact, this committee that the House National Readiness Subcommittee developed has recommended that the Department of Defense back off, and let's get the facts on the table. Already today we've heard facts all the way from less than one percent all the way to up to 48 percent. We've heard data involving tremendous reactions to very minor reactions. With so much uncertainty, why don't we back off, get the facts on the table , pull together the best minds, the best medical researchers, the people who know about these types of vaccines, let's find out what the facts are, and then make a decision whether or not we should continue this program.
I don't think we are at risk going to war somewhere next week to an area that has threat of anthrax. I think the risk is very minimal. We've got time to get the facts on the table, and find out what we ought to be doing.
HARRIS: Well, one risk that is very real, and is having a palpable effect even as we speak right now is the risk to morale.
Let's go back to Washington and talk to Lieutenant Colonel Redmond Handy about that. Are you getting a sense when you talk to some of your fellow servicemen that there's something of a mutiny going on right now about this issue?
HANDY: I sense there's a great deal of concern about the effects of the vaccine and whether the troops are being told all the correct information. And I really appreciate the comments of General Benton regarding the variety of statistics that are out there. I think you have to understand that both in the military and in civilian populations, there is a great opposition, according to three separate surveys, showing that 80 percent of military members and the civilian population opposes the forced nature of this program.
I also think that soldiers in uniform are getting the idea that maybe the anthrax threat isn't quite what it's cracked up to be according to recent reports by the Gilmore Commission in front of Congress, by an institute out of -- in Monterey, California. It was reported in recently, saying there is $10 billion being spent on biological warfare, on anthrax in particular, which isn't even contagious, and the Japan terrorist group tried eight times, had $30 million, unlimited expertise to develop an anthrax weapon, and they failed, and then they switched to sarin and they finally got some results. They had $30 million and managed to kill, I think, a dozen people when, you know, you spend several hundred dollars and make a pipe bomb.
HARRIS: Well, I'm going to follow-up on something you brought up just moments ago about this vaccine itself. Let's go back to Michael Fumento in Washington.
Isn't it true that there have been a number of problems brought up in terms of the quality of this vaccine, and of the plant in Michigan that was actually producing it, numbers of violations in that plant? Isn't that good enough cause for concern?
FUMENTO: Actually, you're talking about the old plant. The military has since switched to a new plant. They found one problem with that new plant, and as a result of that, they halted the entire program. Now if that is not bending over backwards to be as safe as possible, I don't know what is.
And I really have to address another issue, which is this, well, we have time, we can wait. No, we don't. You never know when the next conflict is going to break out. It could break out tomorrow. We could have to start deploying in three days. We are talking about a vaccination here that you have to take six of them over a period of 18 months. So there is no time here to wait.
I'm not saying we shouldn't be working on perhaps a better vaccination, one that can be taken in less than a series of six, I'm all for that, but 18 months is long enough. There's no waiting time here.
HARRIS: Well, listen, before we get out of here, I want to take the time to take a moment now to talk to Kelly Rossman-McKinney, who's on the phone right now. She is a spokeswoman for Bioport, the company that we mentioned moments ago that manufactures the anthrax vaccine in Michigan. We thank you for talking to us this afternoon.
What do you have to say about some of the allegation that have surfaced recently about how bad the situation was there in your plant that was producing this vaccine?
KELLY ROSSMAN-MCKINNEY, SPOKESWOMAN, BIOPORT: Well, I'll tell you, Michael is absolutely right, that there are really two different laboratories facilities that have been under discussion. One is an old facility that has been planned for renovations for many, many years. It is a facility that was actually owned by the Michigan Department of Public Health. Bioport is in the process of getting FDA approval for a brand new state-of-the-industry facility. We're very proud of it. We've had media folks in there who are amazed and astonished at how clean and how modern that facility is.
We make a pure, safe and effective vaccine. I myself have had four doses of it, and I have had nothing but the same side effects that have been indicated in research.
And I think actually Redmond indicated, gee, the reaction rate is up to 48 percent. Well, he's right as long as he clarifies that, indicating that the primary reaction rate is a sore arm. It feels an awful lot like a bee sting for day or two. Beyond that, no problem.
HARRIS: Can you then describe what the other symptoms are, because we've been trying to figure out exactly what is it that actually happens to a human that is infected with this virus?
ROSSMAN-MCKINNEY: Infected with the virus or who has been inoculated with the vaccine? HARRIS: Well, how about explaining both?
ROSSMAN-MCKINNEY: Well, I'll do my best, but I want to point out I'm not a clinist. First, let me talk to you a little about the anthrax disease itself. It is...
HARRIS: Briefly, if you can.
ROSSMAN-MCKINNEY: Yes. If you're exposed to it, you do not know you are exposed to it. You're not going to know you're deathly ill. You will actually show symptoms not unlike the flu. By the time that you decide you are sick enough to go on the doctor, you are probably well on your way on to the door of death. And part of the treatment is the vaccine itself and antibiotics, but you're probably going to die.
The vaccine, as Michael indicated, full immunization takes place in six doses over 18 months, and I don't think the bad guys, in general, are willing to wait for America to get its act together and have its troops immunized.
HARRIS: All right, Mrs. Rossman-McKinney, we thank you very much for your time.
And we'll be back with more discussion in just a moment. Don't go away.
The fifth Egyptian plague around 1500 B.C. is believed to have been a result of anthrax. During the Middle Ages, anthrax was know as the "Black Bane." It nearly destroyed the cattle herds of Europe. In the 1800s, Louis Pasteur studied this disease and developed the first manmade vaccine for animals.
HARRIS: The Bioport Corporation is the only FDA-licensed manufacturer of the anthrax vaccine. Bioport's rabies vaccine is the only human rabies vaccine manufactured in the U.S. Bioport also manufactures products used for Hepatitis, measles and the treatment of burn victims.
Welcome back to the CNN Center and TALKBACK LIVE this afternoon. Leon Harris, sitting in for Bobbie Battista.
We have a fax that we received here, we want to start with in this section. It's from Rich, and it says, "From what I see in my squadron, an all-out anthrax revolt has started. Nobody is going to get anthrax shots now. Major Bates" -- Sonnie Bates, that is -- "has fired a shot heard round the world.
Lieutenant General Dan Benton here with us this afternoon.
What do you make of that? Is that really what is at the core of this whole issue, morale?
BENTON: Well, I think morale has a tremendous fallout of this issue right now, and unless we get on it very quickly, it could become a problem. From the data I've seen right now, it's probably not. There are relatively few numbers when you look at the total 400,000 plus that are receiving the vaccine. The ones that are objecting to use it are fairly small. However, it's an emotional issue. Unless we get the facts on the table and really find out what are the long-term effects with this vaccine, it could very quickly become a morale issue, with people either refusing to take the vaccinations or electing to leave the service.
HARRIS: Well, let's get some facts firsthand. Here in the audience we have with us Lieutenant Colonel Sam Young of the U.S. Army.
And as I understand it, you are actually getting the shots right now, correct?
LT. COL. SAM YOUNG, U.S. ARMY: Yes, Leon, that's correct.
HARRIS: Which shot are you on right now?
YOUNG: I've had high fifth and looking forward to the sixth shot in the next month or two.
HARRIS: You're looking forward to it; that's a heck of a statement.
YOUNG: Well, The reason I say that is I've gone through the series and it's a very specifically timed series, and it concludes at the sixth. I don't know what would happen if that sixth shot was delayed or if not taken whether I would have to start all over than again, and I've gone through the five. I've had no problems, other than what has been mentioned in this quorum thus far.
HARRIS: Let's talk about that. What are the systems that you've experienced? What have they been?
YOUNG: Actually less than flu shot. I've had the slot in the arm, and the worse reaction has been just a localized, for lack of a better term, knot from where the injection went in. Other than that, no symptoms of the achy joints, the flu, things of that nature. Like I've said, I've had worse reaction from a flu shot.
HARRIS: You've had no qualms about this whole process from the very beginning on?
YOUNG: Not at all. With the unit that I'm in, we're oriented toward the Middle East. And in fact within the next week or so, I'll be heading in that direction. So I understand to me it's urgent that I stay with this series, that we follow through on it for myself as well as my soldiers. And what we've done is, within the unit -- and that's the Third Army Headquarters -- there's been a really specific and detailed education process as to here is the history behind this, and here is what you can expect and here's what you look for, and it's very -- the people have stuck to it. The soldiers have, and we have not had a real big problem with it. I've had a soldier come up to me with concerns and we discussed it. I told him, you know, we could go to the clinic and we'll sit down and talk to the doctors about it. We'll pull it up on the Net and see what the background behind it was. We did all that, and he took his shot.
HARRIS: Now let me ask your wife, who's with you. Candace is sitting here with you. Did you have any concerns? Because you had to be getting educated as well as your husband about the process.
CANDACE: I did have concerns, Leon, at first. And then when I talked it over with the physician, I thought that my husband is subject to be deployed at any time, as well as the men who work for him as part of the special forces unit. And so I would rather him be protected in case something did happen in the Middle East than just take the chance that something -- I think enough research has been done on this. I would rather take a chance on that than something happening to him in the Middle East.
And I say, as far as anyone in the military service, it's a volunteer service. If they don't like it they should get out, because no one made them join. And part of joining the service is doing what you're told to do. And I think anyone that's in the Army, Navy or whatever service, if you don't like it then leave.
HARRIS: That's a point that's been made by a number of people who feel the same way you do and many of the folks who are in the Department of Defense in Washington now.
Lieutenant Colonel Redmond Handy, what about that? Did you not sign on an understanding that you had to accept any order that was given to you?
HANDY: No one of us in uniform is ever taught to blindly obey orders. And given the amount of research that's out there, the amount of information that's available from authentic source -- I've been to the congressional document room, where they have thousands of documents that were the basis of conducting the congressional hearings. I've had Freedom of Information Act documents that have been made available by Pat Eddington. I've been through all of the hearings. There is no area of this vaccine policy that is not problematic.
And it's true that some people don't have reactions, but when half of them do and we don't know the long-term effect of those who have severe reactions, there have to be serious questions as to whether Americans want their sons and daughters facing 24 questionably safe shots in a military career of this vaccine alone.
HARRIS: Well those are questions that we'll be talk about in a couple of moments after a break.
Don't go away.
RYAN: Hi, I'm Ryan from American University. I think that the government should require the vaccine. If someone wants to serve then they need to follow any and all regulations set by the government.
HARRIS: And welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Leon Harris sitting in this afternoon for Bobbie Battista.
And we are talking about whether members of the armed forces should be allowed to refuse the anthrax vaccine against direct orders.
Joining us now on the telephone is Brian in Missouri.
And, Brian, can you give us the information on your case right now? I understand you are actually serving right now and undergoing the anthrax treatment?
BRIAN: That's correct. I just received the fifth out of sixth inoculations.
HARRIS: And what has been your experience? Have you had any of the problems that we've been hearing about from the men who have been protesting against this particular order being forced had on them?
BRIAN: None. I've had the typical soreness of the arm, the small knot that stays for a couple days. But other than that, nothing.
HARRIS: No thyroid problems, no breathing problems, no vision problems?
BRIAN: None. And like the other gentleman said earlier, I've had worse problems with a flu shot.
HARRIS: Well, what about some of your compatriots, the men and women you serve with right now? What's the sentiment right now? Is there any sort of a mutiny going on over this issue among the men and women you serve with?
BRIAN: Nobody that I've served with who has taken the shot has experienced any complications or problems other than what is already known. And no, as a unit, we have not had a mutiny, per se.
HARRIS: Lieutenant General Dan Benton joining us here in Atlanta.
I want to ask you about that, because the talk that we're getting from some is that this is definitely hurting morale. If you were leading a group of men and women who were defying an order in this case, what kind of concerns would you have?
LT. GEN. DAN BENTON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well I would try to get as many facts out from the best sources possible. Get them on the table, make sure they understand what this is all about, what the threat is, what the vaccine will do, what are the potential side effects. And then let then make a decision. They could either accept it or they can elect to go do something else. Many of the symptoms that we have heard about -- at least I've read about -- are the same symptoms that were predicted from the immunizations. So...
HARRIS: Would you've -- would you force someone to go through this?
BENTON: No, we never force anybody to do these types of vaccinations. Again, this is a voluntary service. If the unit wants to be a deployable member of his unit, to be part of the team, he must undertake certain forced protection measures. This is just another forced protection measure.
HARRIS: Let's go back to Patrick Eddington, who's standing by in Washington. We've been reading and been reading quite a bit in the press about the different cases that have been popped up at Dover Air Force Base, and Sonnie -- Major Sonnie Bates, who was the person I guess who's now standing a court-martial right now, as I understand it, because he is refusing under any circumstances to take the shot.
Has there been any thought at all that since so many cases and so many problems have popped up only at that one base, that any of these problems are really only endemic to that one base and not a system- wide problem?
EDDINGTON: Oh, Leon, we've had people in California, people in Pennsylvania, people in Connecticut. I mean, I've been contacted by people literally all over the country, both Guard and Reserve members, and some active-duty folks. And Redmond, of course, has heard from probably thousands of people up to this point in time, you know, not just with concerns about this vaccine, but people who have actually had serious medical problems that can be directly traced to the vaccine or receiving the vaccine itself.
You know, what's key to understand here is that the medical surveillance system in our country is inherently a voluntary one. In other words, if you have a problem, at this point it's up to you to actually report it.
What we have found, though, and what GAO found when they looked at the two Army studies that were done in 1997 and 1998 is when you use active monitoring on this vaccine program, you find that the actual adverse reaction rates range from at least 5 percent up to perhaps as high as 35 percent, as Army Surgeon-General Blanck has indicated.
So we have a major problem with the medical surveillance and monitoring system giving us an accurate idea of just exactly how many people really are having problems. And we're also having difficulties, quite frankly, getting a true picture of the number of people who are actually refusing this vaccine or who have a lot of questions about it, because, quite frankly, based on my experience, Redmond's, Sonnie Bates', others, a lot of people are reluctant to come forward and raise this issue because they don't want to lose their jobs, they don't want to put their careers in jeopardy. HARRIS: Well, let me -- let -- I'd like to bring in one of our audience members, Robin here from New York, who had something to say earlier about the way these studies were conducted. You're saying that there's no way, based upon the way these studies were done some 30 years ago, that they could actually be done and would actually pass muster today, correct?
ROBIN: Well, if you have a study with a hundred people, it would be very difficult to get it through an IRB or an Institutional Review Board, especially with the methodologies back then. Then you add to the fact that this vaccine is targeted toward cutaneous, or skin anthrax, and we really don't know if it'll work against inhalational, which really is the pathogen, if you will, or the problems from a military point of view.
So you've got a vaccine that was tested in the '70s against much less (UNINTELLIGIBLE) scientific testing. You don't know if it's going to work. And then you've got a company that's been manufacturing it with not good manufacturing practices.
My problem as a physician -- and I'm with the Long Island Regional Poison Control Center; I'm also on the faculty at SUNY at Stony Brook -- we have 6,000 people in this country a year who die because they don't get the pneumonia shot or the flu shot. And since it's possible to get the flu from the flu shot, this credibility, as the general said, is the heart of the matter.
HARRIS: All right. A couple of moments after break, we will get some comments from the Pentagon on that credibility issue and on that testing issue as well. Don't go away. More in a moment.
According to the U.S. government, in the early 1990s, inspection teams discovered that Iraq produced 8,000 liters of anthrax spores, an amount believed capable of killing every man, woman and child on earth. In 1990 and 1991, more than 150,000 U.S. troops were given anthrax vaccinations. On May 18th, 1998, Secretary of Defense William Cohen approved a plan to vaccinate all U.S. service members for anthrax.
LOY (ph): Hi, I'm Loy from American University. I'm a Christian Scientist, and we don't get shots. So I would object to making the anthrax vaccine mandatory for those who would object for religious reasons.
HARRIS: Welcome back to CNN Center and TALKBACK LIVE. Leon Harris here sitting in for Bobbie Battista this afternoon.
We've been talking about the anthrax vaccine and the controversy that has sprung up about the Pentagon forcing or ordering its troops worldwide to get the vaccine. And troops now are resisting this. And as a matter of fact, we talked moments ago about one particular case, a Major Sony Bates at Dover Air Force Base. And we said that earlier that he was going to be court-martialled for his stance. We understand now that he is not going to be, but that there will be some sort of administrative hearing in his case.
We go now to the Pentagon to get their perspective on this manner. We're joined now by Major General John Parker. He is the commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit. We thank you for coming out and talking to us about this particular issue.
And what we keep hearing about from people that we talk to about this is the fact that the Army right now wouldn't buy a 30-year-old piece of equipment, whether it's a jeep or a handgun. Why is it that you're standing by this 30-year-old technology and this anthrax vaccine?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN PARKER, COMMANDER, ARMY MEDICAL RESEARCH: Well, No. 1, it's the vaccine that's available. We do have a track record with the vaccine, especially in the medical research area, because over that entire time, I have had researchers working with the anthrax bacillus. And as they work with that, they need to be inoculated and protected. So in our special immunizations program, I literally have hundreds of people who have received the entire series of the anthrax shot to protect them while they're working with this organism.
HARRIS: Why then is it so urgent for you to order every single, all 2.4 million troops worldwide, to undergo this therapy right now when there's this committee in Congress that is saying, just hold back for a minute, do some more research, find out unequivocally whether or not these allegations about this vaccine are true or not?
PARKER: Well, sir, the threat hasn't changed. We still know that that are 10 countries that have anthrax. We do know that in some of those instances, it's been weaponized. And we went through the process of looking at all this, and the secretary of defense and the president of the United States has a responsibility to protect the service members when they're deployed.
And this was a known threat. I think it would have been irresponsible for the command authorities not to move with a protection for the service members.
HARRIS: Well, then why not only issue this order to service members who will actually enter a theater where that could be a possibility?
PARKER: Well, sir, as you know, over the past eight to 10 years the Department of Defense has gone through a tremendous downsizing. Every service is much smaller than it was 10 years ago. And the possibility for anyone of our soldiers, airmen, Marines or sailors to be deployed at any place in the world at any time is just astronomically high. So you can't just find five or 10 people that you want to immunize.
HARRIS: But then what about the cases of people that have actually had provable physical medical problems with this vaccine? Are you ready to say right now, unequivocally, that this vaccine is 100 percent safe and could not cause a problem to anyone?
PARKER: Sir, no vaccine is 100 percent safe. If you look at the track record of any vaccine that's been given in the United States, and if it's given to enough people you will see side effects from the least reactive to significant adverse effect.
HARRIS: And how comfortable are you with the idea of there possibly being bad batches of this out there?
PARKER: Sir, I don't believe there are bad batches out there, and the secretary of defense has gone to extreme measures to make sure that every lot that is used on U.S. service members has been doubly tested.
HARRIS: So what is the Army's policy going to be now on anybody who refuses to follow through on this order? Will he be court- martialled?
PARKER: Sir, I think that will be a case-by-case basis. And it's wrong for anyone to say what the mechanism of the discipline would be for the disobedience of the order.
HARRIS: What is going to be the next step then for the Pentagon to ease these fears and concerns that troops and regular citizens are having about all this?
PARKER: Well, I think the biggest way to alleviate fears is to do some very concentrated scientific work and try to put the facts on the table little by little to demonstrate that this in fact was a good decision, this vaccine is definitely safe, and that it's the vaccine that's available today that has the efficacy to protect the troops.
HARRIS: Well to ease people's minds and to ease the public's mind here, would you be willing to have non-military doctors and experts conduct all this testing?
PARKER: Oh, you know, as the commander of the medical research and material command, I truly believe in finding the truth. That's the right road for science, and I would gladly partner with, do it in isolation, but have everybody working on this project.
HARRIS: All right, let's go to Lieutenant Colonel Handy in Washington. Do those words ease your concerns, ease your fears? Now do you feel better about the issue?
HANDY: I wish I could say that they do make me feel better, Leon, but I'm glad I'm retired and I can speak out on this. I couldn't do that. And I do have a lot of respect for the general, but let me tell you, all you have to do is go to the General Accounting Office's report last year to Senator Specter and you can see the statistics for yourself. If you want to put facts on the table, look at the facts that say that 80 percent of the remaining stockpile of this vaccine that was produced prior to the construction of the new plant is in quarantine.
The vast majority of this vaccine has been in quarantine all along, and the ones that are still out there, the lots that are still out there have also been criticized by the FDA for contamination, room temperature violations... HARRIS: I...
HANDY: good manufacturing process, et cetera.
HARRIS: All right, I want to...
HANDY: I have a lot of problems with the quality still.
HARRIS: Sorry to cut you off like that, but we're joined right now on the telephone by Congressman Walter Jones from North Carolina. He's just now calling in. He's been listening.
And, Congressman, what exactly is your position on this?
REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Leon, I have been on this issue since March of last year. In my district, there are three military bases: Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Camp LeJeune Marine Base and Cherry Point Marine Air Station. And I agree with the colonel. I will tell you that I, along with over members of Congress, have called on the Department of Defense, called on the leaders of the Department of Defense to stop mandating this shot, because our men and women in uniform should never be used as a guinea pig. And until the Department of Defense can convince those in uniform that this shot is necessary and this shot is safe, they ought should put a halt on it.
And that report yesterday by Chris Shays and his subcommittee, in my opinion, is enough to put a moratorium on this shot immediately.
HARRIS: Major General Parker at the Pentagon, your comment and response to that?
PARKER: My response would go back to my initial premise: that the threat is there. We know that an adversary could in fact use it, and I would encourage the leadership not to advocate the responsibilities to protect service members the best way they can.
HARRIS: All right, we thank you very much. We're out of time this after. That's going to have to be the final word. We thank you very much folks at home and folks here in the audience for joining us this afternoon. That's all for now.
Have a good weekend.
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