One of Air Mobility Command’s wing commanders has suspended anthrax vaccinations at his base, the biggest wrinkle yet to the Pentagon’s mandatory vaccination program.
Officials at Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base say this is not a case of an insubordinate commander, but rather a case of a commander bending over backwards to make sure his troops understand the program.
Col. Felix Grieder, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base, Del., put the freeze in effect Wednesday after holding a basewide town meeting to discuss concerns about the anthrax vaccinations.
“He wanted everybody to understand the vaccine is safe and effective, to dispel some rumors and disinformation,” said Lt. Col. Charles Wynne, an Air Mobility Command spokesman. “He didn’t feel that the information given at the meeting was comprehensive enough. He didn’t feel comfortable that the folks in the audience, the crews and their families, were satisfied with the information. “So he took a time out.”
The Air Mobility Command surgeon general’s office had representatives at the meeting, but the actual briefing was done by someone from the Air Force surgeon general’s office, Wynne said.
The vaccination program requires three shots, two weeks apart, followed by three shots, six months apart and then annual booster shots.
At least 981 service members at Dover have received at least one of the anthrax shots, but those are now on hold, Wynne said.
An exception will be made for crews who actually deploy to one of the areas listed as a high risk for anthrax weapons, such as Iraq and North Korea, Wynne said.
“Once the wing commander there, Col. Grieder, is convinced we have the right information to our people, it will start again,” Wynne said. “He has stated he has every intention of resuming the shots. But he wants to make sure the people there can take the shots with confidence.”
The 436th flies the giant C-5 Galaxy cargo plane and is a key unit in Air Mobility Command’s worldwide airlift operations.
Wynne also confirmed rumors that some of those who have received the vaccinations at Dover are sick.
“We do know that four people have actually reported to the clinic at Dover to say that they think their symptoms are related to the vaccine,” he said. “The surgeon out there said the symptoms aren’t classical to anthrax vaccine. They’re being evaluated.”
The Pentagon insists the anthrax vaccine, which was licensed in 1970, is safe and effective.
But opponents claim it has never been properly tested and some believe it may be a factor in the illnesses affecting some Gulf War veterans.
About 200 service members have refused the shots since the program began in March 1998.
Originally Published, May 8, 1999, Belleville News Democrat, Belleville,
(c) 1999, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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