Persian Gulf War


Persian Gulf War Essay, Research Paper

A Shot in the Dark

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the United States along with the United Nations has struggled with Saddam Hussein to locate his “weapons of mass destruction”. Saddam’s persistence and dubious manner towards the United States military has raised concern for military protection. To combat biological threats, Secretary of Defense William Cohen implemented a mandatory military wide vaccination of all military members. Since the inception of the program, the program has been the subject of criticism by military members, Veteran Associations, Doctors, and many Senators on Capital Hill. The criticisms have stirred questions regarding the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Questions that the military has not given clear answers to. Until the many questions regarding the vaccine are answered, service members should not be forced to undergo the vaccination program against anthrax.

Bacillus anthracis or anthrax is bacteria that infect thousands of people a year worldwide. Mostly found in the hinds and hair of grazing animals like cattle and sheep, the bacteria can stay dormant for years until contacted. Contact can occur through broken skin, eating infected meat, or inhaling infected dust from hides through the mouth or nostrils. Normal contact through the skin begins forming malignant skin ulcers that are dark black in appearance. If left untreated, the blisters lead to blood poisoning and eventually death. Eating contaminated meat not fully cooked can cause intestinal infection also leading to death. Surprisingly, many people survive contact of the skin and very few cases of intestinal infection exist. However, inhalation of infected dust or spores are much more deadly because the symptoms resemble a common cold. Once inside the lungs, the bacteria induces coughing and high fever within 24 hours. The bacteria multiply by eating tissue eventually causing internal bleeding, shock, and death within 36 hours. Protection against aerosolized anthrax is unknown, but exposure to skin can be reduced through early recognition, antibiotics, and vaccination (Eitzen et al. 1-3).

The vaccine that is being questioned is produced exclusively by the Michigan Biologic Products Institute. In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for controlled use in high-risk occupations. Veterinarians and agricultural laborers were given the vaccine to prevent contracting anthrax through the mishandling of animals and animal products (Anthrax n.pag.). The vaccination process consists of six doses administered over an 18-month period, then followed by annual booster shots. To accommodate the Department of Defense (DOD) Anthrax program, thousands of batches had to be produced quickly.

During mass production, the Michigan Biologics Products Institute has come under disapproval for illegal manufacturing practices. Since 1993, the FDA has cited the Michigan plant several times on quality control. A year before the military was to start the program; an investigation conducted by the FDA found the following problems. Mixing of different batches, replacing old batches with new expiration dates, weakened harvest filters used in producing the vaccine serum, and no documentation of tests performed for contaminants in the vaccine batches. One particular batch manufactured on April 13, 1993 was relabeled Feb. 6, 1998 and sent to the USS Independence in the Persian Gulf where thousands of sailors were given the vaccine. Astonishingly, the FDA did not shut down the anthrax production line at the Michigan plant. However, in a letter written by the FDA’s senior advisor for regulatory operations stated, “Significant improvements must be made prior to continuing production of the vaccine” (Hafem n.pag.). Facts related to the FDA’s lenient attitude towards the Michigan plant are unknown, but suspicions lead to Department of Defense pressure.

Secretary of Defense, William Cohen proposed the mandatory vaccination of all active and reservist military personnel on May 18, 1998. Cohen concluded, “The vaccination is the safest way to protect highly mobile US military forces against a threat that is 99 percent lethal to unprotected individuals”(Anthrax n.pag.). The program will consist of four phases of inoculation starting the summer of 1998. By the year 2003, every service member will be fully protected; including new recruits.

Military members that refuse to participate in the program face serious charges of disobeying a “direct order.” Consequences result in loss of pay and benefits, demotion in rank, complete discharge from the military, and court martial. The Surgeon General of the Army states, “The armed forces cannot tolerate opposition to the inoculations if military discipline is to be maintained”(Graham A3). Nonetheless, sailors and soldiers, continue to oppose the vaccine. Nhut M. Nguyen is a Vietnamese immigrant from California stationed aboard the carrier USS Independence. He along with 13 other sailors, including six officers has refused the shots. That decision not only jeopardized Nhut’s Navy career, but also his pending US citizenship (Hafem n.pag). Private First Class Mathew Baker from Fort Stewart also refused to be vaccinated. Baker’s First Sergeant threatened to tie him down to a gurney if he continued to refuse. After the first shot, Baker disappeared and resurfaced months later with an attorney to contest the Army’s charges against him (Phillips n.pag; Muller).

Questions regarding the long-term effects of the vaccine have also been under protest. Surprisingly, no recorded experiments exist; the long-term effects are unknown. However, the studies of short-term effects show that the vaccine is safe and resemble any other vaccination. Common effects like redness, swelling, and tenderness usually occur around the injection site. Reactions can also vary from low-grade fevers to more severe flu-like symptoms like in the case of 22 year old Eric Julius. After receiving his injection, Eric complained of headaches and tightness in the chest. The vaccine given to Eric and thousands of other service members was from an expired batch (Graham A3).

In addition to the side-effects, the effectiveness against the inhalation of anthrax has also raised questions. A doctor at Fort Detrick conducted tests on the effectiveness of the vaccine on guinea pigs. The vaccine protected only a small percentage of the animals. Other tests done with monkeys showed opposite results, with all monkeys surviving (Anthrax n. pag.). The DOD alleges that the vaccine is only useful if given before exposure to anthrax. However, the US State Department claims that using the vaccine after exposure is just as effective. It was also noted that the immunization must be given within 24 to 48 hours of an attack (Fact n. pag.). If the vaccine is just as effective after exposure, why is the military forcing all personnel to be immunized? This contradiction between federal departments questions not only the credibility of the government, but all claims on the effectiveness of the vaccine itself.

The government has consistently claimed that the anthrax vaccine is safe and there are no major side effects. Nevertheless, prior publicized cases like nuclear testing in the 1950s and use of Agent Orange in Vietnam has caused apprehension towards government claims. More recently, the US government hid the risks of drugs given to military personnel during the Gulf War. Other drugs along with the vaccine were given to thousands of service members for protection. Those returning complained of weakness, nausea, aches of joints, dizziness, and other life threatening illnesses. The illness known as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) is suspected of being connected to the vaccine. Angry and concerned veterans demanded explanations for their illnesses from the US Government. An investigation conducted by the DOD concluded that, “the vaccine given to troops could not be correlated to Gulf War Syndrome” (McIntyre n.pag.). However, Surgeon General of the Army, Ronald Blanck stated in a senate report that “the vaccine should still be considered one of the main causes of GWS “ (Motavalli n. pag.). In addition, independent expert Dr. Maryl Nass claims that, “symptoms of GWS appeared in troops that were vaccinated for preparation of deployment, but never deployed to the gulf”. Also, British and Canadian soldiers during the Gulf War were given the vaccine, excluding French troops. Surprisingly, French troops were the only ones to return without cases of GWS (Smith n.pag.).

Government distrust, vaccine effectiveness, and unknown long-term side effects are a few reasons why military members should refuse to take the vaccine. Violations of human rights and religious beliefs can also present a conflict. Unfortunately, military members have few rights when subjected to direct orders. However, until further research has been completed, and all issues resolved, many members will continue to challenge those orders. It becomes a question of how much right does the military have to place suspicious chemicals into a service member’s body. Time will only tell if the military will be responsible for the damage caused to the lives of 2.4 million service members.


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