Sunday, December 18, 2005

Three groups representing military veterans and their families sent a letter to President Bush Friday, criticizing his administration’s “push to reinstate mandatory anthrax vaccinations” of troops and its effort to shield vaccine manufacturers.

“Subjecting service members to dangerous vaccines while giving protection to vaccine manufacturers is not only a threat to the health of our troops, it is a threat to the ability of our armed services to recruit and keep soldiers,” the groups said.

Their letter and an advertisement came one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final order that reaffirmed its previous finding that the anthrax vaccine prevents anthrax contamination.

The groups are the National Gulf War Resource Center, the Military Vaccine Action Committee and For Those Who Served: Justice for Veterans.

Protect American Families paid for a full-page ad that appeared Friday in Congressional Daily, in which the groups asked Mr. Bush to halt efforts they say threaten the health and safety of U.S. military personnel, according to Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center.

“Your support of liability protection similar to proposals being considered by Republicans in Congress is especially disheartening given your administration’s push to reinstate mandatory anthrax vaccinations of service members, and recent news stories reporting that the Pentagon concealed from Congress multiple deaths and more than 20,700 hospitalizations related to anthrax vaccinations,” the organizations told Mr. Bush in their letter.

These findings were reported by the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., earlier this month.

Starting in 1998, the Department of Defense required that members of the armed forces receive anthrax vaccination. But last April it made the shots voluntary, after a federal judge late in 2004 issued a permanent injunction barring mandatory use of the vaccine. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan came in a legal case in which persons concerned about the vaccine’s safety claimed the FDA had not fulfilled all necessary licensing requirements.

In a statement Friday, Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said “in light of the (FDA’s) final order the department will review (vaccination) program options.” For now, he said, anthrax vaccinations will continue on a voluntary basis.

Dr. Winkenwerder went on to say that the FDA, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Academy of Sciences “all agree that the anthrax vaccine … is as safe as other vaccines.” He further held that “vaccination against anthrax is the best round-the-clock protection available to protect our forces at risk” for exposure to anthrax.

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