Pfc. Leif Hamre
A U.S. soldier in Iraq is being punished for refusing an anthrax vaccine that has a questionable safety record and apparently will be drummed out of the service.
But such punishments may be of no avail to the military; the word already is out in a government report that up to an estimated 44,000 service members could end up with “severe adverse events (including) disability or death” from such mandatory medicines.
The recent case involves Pfc. Leif Hamre, 22, who reports he’s been subjected to threats and intimidation after refusing to take the controversial anthrax vaccine and was given a variety of punishments, including 18-hour work days.
Hamre reports he was given an ultimatum in June to take the vaccine or be punished but couldn’t accept the medication, especially after he discovered the military wasn’t even handling the vaccines under the rules for storing it at the correct temperature.
In an open letter to friends and family members, he said, “The tactics they have used to coerce me into taking the shot are unregulated, unscrupulous and downright un-American.”
He reported he then was given an Article 15 – a non-judicial punishment in the military – and his mother reported he was taken off missions, assigned extra duty and had his pay scale lowered.
The controversial shots first were mandated for U.S. military troops heading to the Middle East for the Gulf War in 1991, then required in the late 1990s and again for the Iraq War in 2003.
But the vaccine has been linked by investigative journalist Gary Matsumoto in his book, “Vaccine-A,” to the Gulf War Syndrome, and a recent report from the General Accounting Office even confirmed that tens of thousands of soldiers are expected to suffer significant health threats from the mandatory vaccinations.
The GAO report confirms that about 2.2 million members of the military service get at least one mandatory immunization annually, including those for anthrax.
“No immunization is completely safe,” the reported explained. “Like all individuals, servicemembers may experience side-effects as a result of their immunizations, known as adverse events. Most adverse events consist of relatively mild reactions, such as swelling near the site of the immunizations.”
The report noted that a “small number” of people may experience more severe reactions. “Some servicemembers who received these vaccines experienced severe reactions such as migraines, heart problems, and the onset of disease including diabetes and multiple sclerosis.”
The military suspended the use of the anthrax vaccine in October 2004 in response to a court order revealing concerns over the process through which it was approved for use on the military, but that order expired in October 2006 and the mandatory shots were resumed within a few months, the report noted.
As part of discussing the military’s documentation of its anthrax vaccine program and the Vaccine Healthcare Centers Network established by the Department of Defense to monitor such problems, and “meet the health-care needs of servicemembers receiving mandatory immunizations,” the GAO report said officials with the VHC Network and the Centers for Disease Control “estimate that between 1 and 2 percent of immunized individuals may experience severe adverse events, which could result in disability or death.”
“Some of these events may occur coincidentally following immunization, while others may truly be caused by immunization,” the GAO said.
Marguerite Armistead, of the organization Protecting Our Guardians, told WND the potential number of soldiers lost to the military from an inoculation is huge.
“In public medicine, if someone is allergic and shows a contraindication, they are never ever forced to take that medication – it’s written in red on their medical file – unless it’s a life or death situation and that medication is the only one that can save them,” she said.
“In this military program, we have a product that has led to numerous fatalities, numerous adverse reactions, and yet soldiers are told you won’t be deployable if you don’t take this,” she told WND.
“This really is like Russian roulette. Put three bullets in, spin the chamber and take your shot,” she said.
She said various federal reports document 44 deaths from the inoculations, and thousands of adverse reactions already, many of them involving auto-immune diseases or lesions on the brain.
Matsumoto, a New York-based war correspondent who won 10 journalism awards during his years working for NBC and Fox News Channel, in 1998 drew a connection between the vaccine and the Gulf War Syndrome. His book describes several cases, including an Army sergeant whose skin became so diseased that doctors, in a desperate attempt to cure him, removed every square inch of skin from his body. Then there was the Green Beret colonel who suffered walking blackouts that left him unable to find his way home, and the man whose brain literally shrank until he could no longer write his name or walk straight.
Hamre’s parents have told Protecting Our Guardians that their son has reported he is expected to be leaving Baghdad on Nov. 17, and apparently is returning to a base in Alaska.
“He told us that a captain from another base refused the vaccine but he doesn’t know the details of that situation. He got word about that from his old roommate who was working at that base …. That roommate now is back where Leif is located and it sounded like there may have been others who refused as well. Leif’s commander was angry that that person shared the information with Leif and claimed it was over and now he was causing problems to bring it up again,” they wrote the organization.
“He continues to work longer hours than the rest of the guys and has brought it up with the commander and is told ‘you don’t have it that bad.’ I guess by keeping busy the time may go by faster. Anyway, Leif is glad to have a date set to start the process of leaving the war. He isn’t sure about the discharge, money he was told he would receive and the bonus for serving in Iraq…” they wrote.
The vaccine BioThrax, by BioPort – now called Emergent Biosolutions – is the only FDA-licensed vaccine for anthrax in the U.S. and the Pentagon repeatedly has affirmed its safety.
“The vaccine is safe and effective,” confirmed former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder.
Still, the DOD has a number of studies evaluating its performance, and even BioPort’s insurance company, Evanston Insurance, is questioning the safety of the product.
According to a report on Raw Story, the insurance company sued BioPort alleging “material misrepresentations” by the pharmaceutical company about “incidents, conditions, circumstances, defects, or suspected defects” in the vaccine.
“I believe as an American soldier you are expected to follow orders and put yourself in harm’s way but unnecessary safety risks should not be part of the accepted risks one is asked to face,” Hamre said. “We are being forced to accept chemicals into our already weary bodies that have caused the suffering of thousands of individuals; of course those people are easily dismissed by the government because they took a ‘safe’ drug. One thing bothers me though; I am an American citizen too, with rights I thought we were fighting to protect. I have given two years of dedicated service to the Army, with a clean record and a willingness to sacrifice for my country and fellow soldiers.
“I am looking forward to much more punishment and probably a discharge from the Army. I just don’t think any of this seems right…” he said.
Hamre’s mother told Protecting Our Guardians appeals to various upper officials in the military and even Congress have been unavailing.
While the GAO report warns of the 1-2 percent rate for “disability or death” from vaccines, that figure includes all vaccines, including anthrax, administered to servicemembers by the military. There are about 2.2 million servicemembers who are inoculated every year, which would suggest significant impacts for 22,000-44,000 servicemembers around the world.
Armistead noted that the vaccine’s own product insert warns of potential complications with heart problems, Guillain Barre Syndrome, seizures and paralysis among the nearly four dozen potential adverse reactions.
One of the original anthrax-laced envelopes mailed in 2001
WND earlier reported Dr. Meryl Nass, a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, is warning that should there be another anthrax attack, such as the powder-laden envelopes that arrived at a U.S. Senate office building and other offices in 2001, an order requiring civilians to be inoculated also is legally and technically possible.
If a handful of people were to be exposed in an office building in Los Angeles, for example, the government could issue an order for vaccination for “everybody in the building, maybe everybody in Los Angeles. That’s what people now are facing,” she said.
She also vigorously opposes the anthrax vaccine, and her website actively is recruiting volunteers to participate as plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the government over the restart of the vaccine program.
“I think what’s important for the average person to know is that the military [already] has vaccinated 1.4 million people, and there have been thousands of people … with adverse reactions,” she told WND.
And she said there undoubtedly are many more cases that have gone unreported or misdiagnosed as another disease.
There are responses developing, too.
When Maine Army National Guard Capt. Patrick Damon died in 2006 in Afghanistan from “undetermined causes,” his mother, Barbara Damon-Day, investigated.
She now believes military vaccinations played a role, and the state Legislature has approved with unanimous support a bill putting in place various safety measures and reviews.
The plan creates a commission to review various health-care practices including vaccinations for the Maine National Guard.
WND also has reported on the aggressive campaign by Merck & Co. and state lawmakers to require Gardasil, a vaccine that targets the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, to be given to all schoolgirls.
At least 11 deaths and about 3,500 adverse reactions already have been tied to that vaccine.