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Anthrax Vaccine Causes Controversy for Military; FCC Might Allow Cell Phones on Flights
Aired December 15, 2004 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Should all Americans get an anthrax vaccine to prevent against a possible attack? Well, the government is paying for a civilian vaccine to be made, but John's Hopkins researchers suggest it would make more sense to inoculate people after an attack. Until recently, the U.S. military was vaccinating troops in a very controversial program. CNN's Tom Foreman reports.
EDDIE NORMAN, FMR. ARMY SGT.: I couldn't lift my pelvis. You went from one of the most fittest soldiers in the army, I mean, 300 PT, Goldstream awards to just nothing. I'm talking about in a matter of -- in a matter of a year, just nothing.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A veteran of both Gulf Wars, Eddie Norman believes that the army's anthrax vaccine physically destroyed him.
NORMAN: I was so swollen up at time that, I mean, I couldn't -- you couldn't even touch my body.
FOREMAN: Norman was given the complete series of eight shots of the vaccine before deploying to the Gulf in 2000. He says his immediate reactions to the shots were so severe, he was flown home for treatment.
NORMAN: I mean serious, serious pain. You know, they don't think, it is really hard for someone to imagine they haven't actually experienced this pain. You know, shaking, you know, in the night time. Uncontrollably shaking.
FOREMAN: The final diagnosis by his doctors, Eddie Norman had a muscular disorder called Fibromyalgia.
NORMAN: They say they suspect it to be the anthrax vaccine.
FOREMAN: Despite thousands of documented complaints like that of Eddie Norman, the government is developing a new vaccine. In July, a new law passed, Project Bioshield with a price tag of $5.6 billion. It will create a national stockpile of the new anthrax vaccine for the civilian population. Dr. David Ozonoff is an expert in infectious diseases and public health at Boston University.
DR. DAVID OZONOFF, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: The whole program is so badly thought out and unthought out. FOREMAN: For more than a decade, troops deployed to the Persian Gulf were required to take Biothrax, the only existing anthrax vaccine but the Veterans Administration has documented more than a thousand cases of servicemen and women who blame Biothrax for a whole range of serious illnesses.
CHRISTINA KUTZ, FMR. SENIOR AIRMAN: 2003 was probably the worst year for me. I couldn't eat anything. I was throwing up constantly.
FOREMAN: Former senior airman Christina Kutz returned from Iraq in April 2003 knowing that she still had to complete the series of anthrax shots. There is no way I could say no because I didn't want to get court martialed and I couldn't see myself -- I like the military. I loved my job. I just couldn't do it.
FOREMAN: But after her fourth injection in July, Kutz was told she had developed an intestinal ailment known as Crohn's Disease. She was given a waiver from further vaccinations.
David Ozonoff believes it is the vaccine's effectiveness that also makes it so harmful.
OZONOFF: Some of the antibodies that are manufactured against those organisms also work against parts of your own body.
FOREMAN: Colonel John Grabenstein heads up the army's vaccine agencies.
COL. JOHN GRABENSTEIN, ARMY VACCINE AGENCY: I think the debate's been settled. After we took 18 human safety studies to the National Academy of Sciences, the country's best scientists and they reached the conclusion after over a year and a half of considering the matter that the anthrax vaccine is as safe as other vaccines.
FOREMAN: But in November, a federal district court in Washington, D.C. ruled otherwise. Citing hundreds of complains like those of Eddie Norman and Christina Kutz, the court sent the vaccine to the FDA for reexamination and halted mandatory inoculations. Now, as part of Project Bioshield, the government has awarded a contract worth more than $1 billion to a small pharmaceutical company called VaxGen. It will manufacture 75 million doses of the new vaccine by 2007 for civilian use.
OZONOFF: There is no scenario that you can imagine that you would ever need that many. So, I don't know what's -- I don't know what the thinking was there. Or if there was any thinking.
FOREMAN: Dr. Lance Gordon is Vaxgen's CEO.
DR. LANCE GORDON, CEO, VAXGEN: The driving issue from the federal government was the need to get product into inventory in the quickest possible time with the highest probability of success.
FOREMAN (on camera): A clause impending bioshield legislation allows for fast tracking the anthrax vaccine. The new vaccine will be ready in 2007, but it will be untested and unlicensed by the Food and Drug Administration.
OZONOFF: But until there is that kind of public health emergency, I don't know why you would short-circuit the necessary safeguards.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Critics say the project amounts to an improper government subsidy, a windfall for Vaxgen, a company with some serious missteps in its recent past.
In 2003, Vaxgen withdraw its AIDS vaccines after faulty testy results were discovered. Last August, Vaxgen was delisted from the NASDAQ after its accounting practices were questioned by the SEC.
Despite that, the government gave Vaxgen the bioshield contract.
GORDON: I believe that their judgment was that we were the most reliable company, having a product available to meet the urgent need. Something I'm very proud of.
FOREMAN: But under the pending bioshield legislation, Vaxgen and other manufacturers cannot be held liable for illnesses caused by the new vaccine. And whether or not the drug works, many experts question whether it is needed at all. It is very difficult to fashion a weapon of mass destruction out of anthrax.
OZONOFF: Only a handful of people know the secrets to weaponizing anthrax. It's very, very hard to do.
FOREMAN: And inhaled anthrax can be treated with antibiotics, all which amounts to a seriously flawed program, says Ozonoff.
OZONOFF: If you wanted to beef up public health in this country, you sure wouldn't want to do it this way. It is sort of like trying to, you know, make Tang by inventing the space program.
FOREMAN: Vaxgen vows that its new anthrax vaccine will be better than the old one, though its potential for serious side effects remains unknown.
GORDON: The safety is already largely established, but again, you know, we're not going to challenge humans with anthrax and potentially kill them to test the vaccine.
FOREMAN: In the meantime, two months short of retirement, Eddie Norman is struggling with the effects of the current vaccine.
EDDIE NORMAN, FORMER ARMY SGT.: I got pain through here now, but I've got to work, you know? You know, I have to. If I don't work, then my family is out on the streets.
FOREMAN: And Christina Kutz' hopes of going back to the Army are fading.
CHRISTINA KUTZ, FORMER SENIOR AIRMAN: I'll probably never be able to go back in, unless they misdiagnosed me or a miracle.
FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
PHILLIPS: Straight ahead, he has two academy awards for playing fictitious people.
KEVIN SPACEY, "BEYOND THE SEA" (singing): I can only give you love that lasts forever. And the promise to be near each time we talk.
PHILLIPS: Not bad. Now Kevin Spacey's got a Golden Globe nomination for playing and singing the part of a real-live show biz legend in his forthcoming movie. You're going to hear all about it from the man himself.
PHILLIPS: Well, when you've already won two Oscar, it's pretty hard to find new creative challenges. But not for Kevin Spacey, that's for sure.
WHITFIELD: He's an incredible talent. The actor gets to sing, dance, and wear the director's hat for his new film about entertainer Bobby Darin. And so far he's got a Golden Globe nomination for that role. Our Sibila Vargas dives into "Beyond the Sea."
SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Why are you so connected to Bobby Darin?
KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: I love the challenge of trying to get as many things in your life as you possibly can. Bobby wanted more and he didn't want to settle for what either came easy or what, for him, didn't get him out of bed in the morning. And I'm very much that kind of person.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "BEYOND THE SEA")
SPACEY: I want it all. I want the major leagues. I want nightclubs, I want Vegas, movies, TV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPACEY: For a long time it was my dream. And as each person came on to join the project, I feel like everybody made my dream their dream.
VARGAS (voice-over): A dream that began to take shape more than five years ago at the world famous Capitol Records building in Hollywood.
SPACEY: We started working on the music in '99. And then we came in to this studio, where Bobby recorded, as well as Sinatra, and all the greats have been in this room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "BEYOND THE SEA")
JOHN GOODMAN, ACTOR: Didn't I tell you? We're playing the Copa.
SPACEY: You're freakin' kidding me.
GOODMAN: I got the call this morning, big shot.
SPACEY: No, no! All right!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VARGAS (on camera): And you got the best seal of approval. I mean, you got Darin's son. Initially, though, I hear that he was like, over my dead body.
SPACEY: Well that was -- Steve Blauner and I think Dodge (ph) shared -- Steve Blauner was Bobby's manager for a long time and is a character that John Goodman plays in the film. He said, I don't think you should act it, I don't think you should sing it, you shouldn't direct it and you're too old to play it. And I said, well, sit down, Steve, we'll get over that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "BEYOND THE SEA")
GOODMAN: That was perfect.
SPACEY: We can do it better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VARGAS (voice-over): As persuasive as he is talented, Spacey not only headlines and directs "Beyond the Sea," he also does his own singing. Spacey's role on screen has even inspired a real-life 10- city concert tour in which the star plays homage to Darin.
(on camera): You threw yourself completely into this and what strikes me is, were you intimidated at all?
SPACEY: Huge. Hugely. His voice is just extraordinarily strong. And his range is great. And I was definitely in the -- I went through many sleepless nights thinking, have I bitten off more than I can chew? Am I ever going to get close?
And now that it's done, I think, well, you know, it's a version of Bobby Darin. It's my version of Bobby Darin. And I am delighted that we've gotten close enough to honor him. But the truth is nobody will ever get that close. This is a man who was in a league all his own.
PHILLIPS: "Beyond the Sea" is rated PG-13, it opens in L.A. and New York this Friday. It opens nationwide on December 29. You going?
WHITFIELD: He is full of surprises.
PHILLIPS: Isn't he? He can do everything.
WHITFIELD: I know it.
PHILLIPS: He's amazing. Well, there are lots of choices out there for juice drinkers now.
WHITFIELD: How much juice do some of the drinks really have in them? There's a push for some new rules to help you find out exactly what you're drinking. That story and latest from Wall Street straight ahead.
WHITFIELD: It has been nearly three months since the popular arthritis drug Vioxx was recalled. The drug's manufacturer Merck has updated the number of Vioxx-related personal injury lawsuits filed against the company.
Chris Huntington of CNN Financial News has more on Merck's growing woes.
CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Merck CEO Ray Gilmartin did not want to answer the big question on just how much Vioxx litigation could cost his company.
RAY GILMARTIN, CEO, MERCK: Basically, anything would be just speculation. It's too early to speculate on that.
HUNTINGTON: But Merck did reveal it now knows of 475 Vioxx- related personal injury lawsuits, filed on behalf of several thousand plaintiffs, as well as two-and-a-half dozen additional suits from shareholders, pension funds and employees. Analyst Richard Evans estimates Merck's Vioxx liability could run as high as $38 billion, or more than six times Merck's expected profit for this year.
Evans says Merck will also pay dearly for lost credibility in the marketplace.
RICHARD EVANS, DRUG ANALYST: When a Merck sales rep sits in front of a physician right now, you can just picture that. You have got to imagine that the dominant theme in that conversation is Vioxx. And that, in terms of selling, it is a waste of time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vioxx relieves arthritis pain.
HUNTINGTON: Merck's promotion of Vioxx, widely regarded as the most aggressive drug promotion of all time, relied on an unprecedented distribution of free Vioxx samples. A former Vioxx sales rep tells CNN he'd never seen that much money thrown behind a new drug. He conservatively estimated that each month in the U.S. market, Merck distributed more than 10 million free Vioxx pills at a wholesale cost to the company at more than $20 million.
Dr. Bob Goodman, who has long warned med students to be wary of drug industry promotions, says the Vioxx recall offers fresh evidence of the potential pitfalls of free drug samples.
DR. BOB GOODMAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: The pharmaceutical industry spends about half its promotional dollars on the free samples, and there are plenty of examples, Vioxx being only the most recent of drugs that were recalled in a few years after being heavily sampled.
WHITFIELD: Well, Chris tells us that Merck's headquarters have no plans to curtail drug sampling. In fact, CEO Ray Gilmartin says drug samples are simply part of the drug manufacturing. But lawyers representing Vioxx plaintiffs tell CNN that Merck's massive distribution of Vioxx samples is emerging as a central theme in many of their cases.
PHILLIPS: Well, is your orange juice watered down? Some Florida officials want all the juicy details from the makers now.
WHITFIELD: Allan Chernoff joins us now from the New York Stock Exchange with more on that -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, Kyra, Florida citrus growers are not happy with juice companies for watering down their nectar. One of the new trends in the juice aisle is low cal, but with that comes a lot more water and lower juice content. Now citrus growers are asking the Food and Drug Administration to force Tropicana, Minute Maid and others to more prominently show the percentage of real juice on their labels. The claim is that consumers are being misled into thinking the drinks are 100 percent juice. Tropicana's Light & Healthy, for example, it only has 42 percent juice.
Here on Wall Street, stocks are trading flat today, despite the juicy $35 billion Sprint-Nextel deal. As you can see, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lower by about 5.5 points. The Nasdaq slightly lower at the moment.
The market is concerned about oil, surging more than $2. It's trading back above $44 a barrel -- Fredricka, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Allan, we should probably talk about CNNfn. It just went off the air just a few moments ago. Tough for a lot of us here.
CHERNOFF: That is very true. After nine years on the air, CNNfn is shutting down. It finished its live programming less than one hour ago. The network covered all the top business stories, including the Dow topping 10,000 for the first time, the tech bubble bursting, and major corporate scandals at Enron, Tyco, and of course, the scandal involving Martha Stewart.
We will, though, continue providing top-notch business coverage on CNN, as well as HEADLINE NEWS.
And that is the latest from Wall Street. Kyra and Fredricka, back to you. PHILLIPS: All right, Allan. Thanks so much. We're going to take a quick break, we'll be right back.
PHILLIPS: Well, the FCC has met this morning to consider a plan to allow you to use your cell phone during a plane flight. CNN technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg is here to talk a little about it. He just got off his cell phone, he's been very busy working this story.
DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, all day long.
PHILLIPS: All right, so what's the deal? I was looking actually at the latest wire and it even said the FCC has decided to seek comments from the public about ending the ban on in-flight use.
SIEBERG: Well, the people we've talked to really feel passionate about this issue. They would rather that cell phones weren't used on planes, at least most people. The issue is certain to push people's buttons. There are those who relish the chance to escape the ubiquitous cell phone, while others do see it as a great opportunity. As Kyra pointed out, the FCC is meeting today to discuss how cell phone use at 35,000 feet might interfere with cell use on the ground. And considering licenses for the technology.
Now, the FAA, meanwhile, is concerned about how cell phones affect electronics on board an airplane. You've probably heard about this. They have commissioned a private study to be completed by 2006 and says it won't decide anything until after that time.
So the big question on everybody's mind is could an active cell phone cause a crash or some problem on board the plane? Like they make that announcement each time they get on board. Well, you can just think of the people who have packed their cell phones in carry-on luggage and left it on without incident. Some of us may have done that, but some experts say there is a chance, however remote, that something could possibly, maybe, potentially, maybe go wrong. You might remember that some cell phone calls were made to loved ones from the hijacked planes on September 11th, but that probably had more to do with the plane's close proximity to the ground.
The issue really seems to be over whether travelers would embrace the idea. I'm not sure if we can show this right now, but there's a rather unscientific poll on CNN Money's Web site that shows a majority of people are against the idea. The last time I checked, it was about fifty-four percent saying no. Now, likely this is because they would be in such close proximity with talkers and likely loud talkers over din of the plane with nowhere to go.
There are plenty of issues to work out here. Which carrier or carriers will provide the service? How much will the calls cost? Will there be roaming charges involved? And will the calls be limited in some way? Perhaps flight attendants monitoring them or something like that. This could be become the newest air rage incident, Kyra, or a huge advantage, depending on how you look at it.
PHILLIPS: That's right, because you've got to deal with the FAA, that deals with navigational controls, and the FCC with communications.
SIEBERG: Right, there are a lot of issues here. It's a very murky area. And there is also the issue of reception. Even if all of this falls into place a couple of year from now, how good is the reception going to be? There's a possibility that it could be really bad. You know, sometimes when you're talking on your phone and it sounds like you're talking underwater? People say that. The new thing could be it sounds like you're talking at 30,000 feet. I mean, it really could be poor. But they have to work through a lot of the kinks on this, so...
PHILLIPS: How 'bout the cost, too? Already, those phones that are on board, nobody ever uses them because they're like $20 a minute or whatever. I mean, it's got to be really expensive -- however there could be a chunk in it for airlines too, that are going bankrupt.
SIEBERG: Exactly. Exactly. The airlines have lost money over some of these phones that are on board, the ones that you pull out of the back of the seat. Those ones average about $4 per minute. And Verizon is the company that's been really behind those because AT&T backed out. The thing is, the cell phones, if you used them on board, you could be charged some extra money -- that could go, potentially, to the airlines. They could find some way to charge for that.
And as well, we're talking about Internet access. This is a separate issue, but they could also charge people for wireless Internet access. while you're on board a plane. So they could see some money coming in from that as well, that could involve satellites and bouncing it here and there. But data is one thing. Voice is something entirely different. So you can do something quietly while you're on your Blackberry or computer.
PHILLIPS: Sure, I understand the laptop. But then now we're going sit next to someone who's chewing gum, has a screaming baby, talking on a cell phone, while I have to pay for my food?
SIEBERG: They're going to have to give out ear plugs as you get on the plane. I see that as the only solution to all of this.
PHILLIPS: I'm going to be taking Greyhound, is what I'm going to be doing. All right, Daniel. Well, we're going to read some e-mails. As you can imagine, we've been soliciting these from you. If you want to get in on the action, livefrom@CNN.com. Is cell phone use on airplanes convenient or obnoxious? I have a feeling I know what all of you are going to say. Because I haven't had any e-mails yet saying let's have those cell phones. So if you think there should be cell phone use on planes, e-mail me. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
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