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Thu, Jul 10, 2003

Marine Heli Pilot Dismissed, Jailed Over Anthrax

Invoked Religion in Refusal to Take Anthrax Shots

Marine 1st Lt. Erick Enz didn't fight the charge; he pleaded guilty this week, to the serious charge of disobeying orders. Considering how seriously the Corps takes such action, he got a relatively 'light' sentence: seven months in jail and dismissal from the Marine Corps.

The problem for the CH-46 pilot came when he refused to get the mandated anthrax vaccination. Enz, who leads a Bible study group, said he thought and prayed a long time before refusing to accept the vaccine... on religious grounds. The Military Judge, Col. Steven Day, said the "religious grounds" defense was inadmissable; Enz had no option but to plead guilty.

He could have received five years; but the Daily News of Jacksonville (FL) says there was a pretrial agreement worked out -- he may, seven month sentence notwithstanding, be allowed to return to his five kids after just 30 days.

An unpopular, ineffective, poorly-run, possibly dangerous program:

A look at the Clinton Administration's 1997 program to force anthrax vaccination on all military was published in September, by the General Accounting Office (GAO-02-445). It noted that the anthrax vaccine wasn't all that benign. In fact, the report noted, "In marked contrast to other mandatory DOD immunization requirements, our sample survey in 2000 showed that AVIP was at that time adversely affecting the retention of trained and experienced guard and reserve pilots and aircrew members. While many factors can and do influence an individual’s decision to participate in the military, a significant number of pilot and aircrew members cited the required mandatory anthrax immunization as a key reason for reducing their participation or leaving the military altogether in 2000."

Nobody liked it, especially officers; and they didn't trust the program. The report: "From our survey, we estimate that 77 percent would not have taken the anthrax vaccine if it had been offered on a voluntary basis. Almost 9 of 10 reported that they would have safety concerns if an additional vaccine for other BW agents were added to the military’s required immunization program. Additional analysis showed that officers were statistically more likely than enlisted personnel to report that they would not have taken the anthrax vaccine voluntarily."

Threat from enemy isn't defined; threat from vaccination is well-established:

The GAO report continues, "...we estimated that 37 percent of the guard and reserve pilots and aircrew members had received one or more anthrax shots as of September 2000. Of these recipients, 85 percent reported experiencing some type of reaction (local or systemic or both). This overall rate reported for adverse reactions following anthrax immunization was more than double the rate published in the vaccine manufacturer’s product insert that was in use at the time of our survey (84 percent versus approximately 30 percent)."

The government's buying, using old vaccine.

Thanks to a government-granted monopoly, there's just one source of the anthrax vaccine, and that source, BioPort Corporation, stopped producing in 1998 after the FDA effectively shut it down for "repeated deviations from applicable manufacturing standards for the vaccine." Until production resumed in late 2002, the military was injecting vaccine that was at least four years old, and as much as ten or so, according to the GAO report. [Whether all-new vaccines are now available, or, if so, are being used, was not mentioned in the September, 2002 report. In a related story, q.v., there's a 'new' vaccine on the way --ed.]

So, had the Sea Knight pilot perhaps used science, empirical data, and the GAO's report, rather than religion as the basis for his refusal to be injected with the potion, his point might, at least, have been considered. Or not.

FMI: www.dod.mil; www.gao.gov

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