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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Military Anthrax Vaccinations – Are They Safe? Are They Effective? Why Are They Mandatory?

The military is poised to re-start mandatory anthrax vaccinations. Most of you know this is a controversial program that has experienced its share of legal challenges and public criticism. You could spend days, weeks, even months researching this issue and reviewing the various official and unofficial positions/documents and Internet sites/stories dedicated to this topic. Needless to say, it’s a highly disputed issue that begs certain basic questions – Are the vaccinations safe? Are the vaccinations effective? Why are the vaccinations mandatory?

I should begin my comments with some disclaimers and qualifiers. First, Frank Spinner (of counsel) and I (Richard Stevens) are former military officers (JAGs) and we all have friends and/or family currently serving in the military. We certainly want them to be protected from potential harm to the extent possible. We also deal with reality and evidence, we don’t subscribe to baseless conspiracy theories. Finally, I won’t be providing any legal advice in this, or any, blog post. Legal advice is tailored to individual cases and clients. However, I will describe some anthrax-related legal issues at the level of the individual service member.

The DoD will tell you the anthrax vaccinations are safe and effective, and they are being administered to protect our fighting forces ( Others will tell you these vaccinations are neither safe nor effective, and they are being administered based on the momentum created by money, politics, and the military’s unwillingness to admit mistakes (

Here is what I have learned...

Is The Anthrax Vaccine Safe? I have represented military members who have become seriously ill and disabled after being administered the anthrax vaccinations. This includes developing chronic diseases and experiencing continuing deterioration of their health. I have witnessed some military doctors reflexively pronounce that the vaccinations and the subsequent health problems were unrelated and just temporally coincidental; while civilian doctors (consistent with the Hippocratic oath) have not dismissed the causal connection.

I have spoken with other military members who, similarly, became chronically ill or disabled after receiving the anthrax immunizations. I have spoken with physicians, attorneys and advocates who have described for me cases in which military members became seriously ill, disabled, or died after receiving the anthrax vaccine.

I have attended presentations in which civilian experts (physicians and research scientists) have described various issues that make the vaccine unsafe – including the methodology of its production and the additives in it, such as squalene or aluminum. I have listened as these same experts have disputed the meaning and interpretation of the studies the DoD relies on to proclaim the vaccine safe. I was shocked to see the statistical comparison between the adverse medical events associated with the anthrax vaccine versus other vaccines – a truly remarkable dichotomy in the study presented.

I have had clients assessed and treated at the National Vaccine Healthcare Center ( after falling ill following administration of the anthrax vaccine shots. The fact that the VHC exists says something about the safety of these immunizations. Would a VHC be needed if the vaccinations were as safe and effective as promoted?

So, is the anthrax vaccine safe? I’m not a doctor or a scientist. All I know is what I’ve seen and heard. I have seen, first-hand, the health consequences suffered by military members after receiving the anthrax vaccination. I have heard similar stories from others and I have heard from experts who dispute the military’s official position. The fact that adverse medical consequences weren’t suffered by a high percentage of those who received the shots does not mean the vaccine is safe for all. Studies are ongoing. Sad cases continue to appear. What conclusion is to be drawn from this?

The conclusions by experts who challenge the safety and efficacy of the vaccine were based on the information they could compile from the government; yet, they describe how other important information exists that the government will not give them access to. Could there be even more conclusive proof that the vaccine is unsafe and/or ineffective?

Is The Anthrax Vaccine Effective? In contrast to the numerous cases I know of in which illness, or even death, occurred after receiving the anthrax inoculations, I have yet to hear of any case in which a military member was saved by this vaccine. As with the safety issue, I have attended presentations in which civilian experts (physicians and research scientists) have described various issues that illustrate the vaccine is not effective for the purpose that was intended – to protect against inhalation anthrax. One such issue is the outdated methodology of its production. I have listened as these same experts have disputed the meaning and interpretation of the studies the DoD relies on to proclaim the vaccine effective.

When weighing the pros and cons of a vaccination program, at what point do the cases of illness versus the cases of proven protection finally dictate the need, in good conscience, to stop the program unless or until a vaccine that is safe and effective can be produced? Aren’t we past that point already?

Why Are The Anthrax Vaccinations Mandatory? The answer, in short, is because the military can. In the civilian world there is a medical concept called “informed consent.” Informed consent means that a medical procedure will not be performed before the potential risks and benefits of the procedure are appropriately explained to the patient and the patient gives consent to proceed – armed with the information that was explained. Legal action is the consequence of violating the safeguards of informed consent in the civilian world. In the military, informed consent is not required to proceed with vaccinations. They can, and are, required by order. Moreover, the Feres doctrine ( generally bars a military member from suing the government if a DoD performed medical procedure (i.e. a mandatory vaccination) results in harm. The result? The military can order its members to be inoculated and if the member suffers harm as a result, the member has no apparent legal recourse. Civilian attorneys and advocates are now fighting and lobbying to change this. Isn’t it ironic that the men and women who fight to protect our freedoms are not free to refuse the anthrax vaccine or free to take legal action if they are harmed?

Military Discipline. Particularly as a defense attorney practicing military law, I would never advise a service member to violate an order. In those cases I know of in which military members have refused to be inoculated, the defense has argued that the vaccination order was illegal. I don’t know of any case in which this defense argument was successful. As a result, the cases I know of were dealt with by involuntary administrative discharges (at best) or courts-martial. Careers have ended. Futures have been impacted.

Military Medicine. For those military members who do receive the anthrax vaccinations and experience adverse medical events at some point afterward, it is important that: (1) this be reported to your doctor and recorded in your medical records; (2) a vaccine adverse event report (VAERS) be filed; and, (3) that you receive appropriate follow-up medical assessments and treatment. You can contact the VHC yourself if needed. Depending on the severity of your illness, you may ultimately face a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB)/Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). Thorough preparation is important to a successful outcome in this process.

If you are expecting this blog post to end with good or promising news, it doesn’t. I have more questions than I do answers. The answers I do have are not acceptable to me. Thus far the military has prevailed in its quest to require anthrax immunizations. But, will this end up being a Pyrrhic victory? Our American military history is marked by chapters that make us all swell with pride. Unfortunately, there are also some chapters that are regrettable. How will history judge the chapter in which members of our armed forces were required to take the anthrax vaccinations?

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, PC

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank Spinner and I (attorney Richard Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens & The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation.


emerald eyes said...

Thank you for this information. I have recently resigned my military commssion and have had some back and muscle pain that I have just attributed to aging. I have been in perfect health >50 yrs and have no other medical problems. While receiving the 6 Anthrax injections, I had significant local reactions. I am wondering if there are others out there suffering similar problems. Your article has looking into the other web links.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the three vaccinations I received between Aug-Oct 2003 had something to do with the onset of arthritis I experienced in the past few years and the systemic reaction I now get from even the slightest contact with poison oak.