As the Pentagon expands its anthrax vaccination program this week, Army officials are saying they have the right to forcibly restrain and vaccinate soldiers who refuse the shots.
The Army's statements are in response to questions about the case of Pfc. Mathew R. Baker, a 20-year-old soldier who went absent without leave June 9.
Baker, who turned himself in Aug. 5, says he didn't want the vaccination
because of concerns about its safety and effectiveness. But he said
First Sgt. Roger Paterson "told me to my face that if I refused the anthrax
vaccine, he would strap me down or have me strapped down to a
gurney, and inject me with the anthrax vaccine."
Baker took the first of a series of six shots, then went AWOL.
Army spokesmen are saying Paterson did nothing wrong.
"Army regulations allow soldiers to be given vaccinations as required for mission readiness," said Army spokesman Elaine Kanellis. "It's certainly possible that a soldier can be ordered to take a shot. If they refuse the order, they can face disciplinary action."
Kanellis, a civilian spokesman, repeatedly refused to say whether Army policy allowed or prohibited forcible vaccinations. "The military folks I talked to never heard of such a case," she said.
But in the Aug. 17 edition of the Army Times, a weekly newspaper for soldiers, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Guy Shields was quoted as saying about Baker: "Yes, we could have used restrained force to administer the shot."
The same article quotes a spokesman at Fort Stewart, Ga., where Baker was stationed, as saying Paterson did threaten Baker with force if he refused the shot. "The Army is currently developing a specific policy for dealing with the anthrax vaccine program," Kanellis said.
She could not explain why the service did not have a policy in place when the vaccinations began in March.
On Friday, Pentagon officials announced they are expanding the vaccinations to the all service members, beginning this week. First to get the vaccinations will be troops in Korea and Southeast Asia.
The Army policy stands in contrast to the Navy and the Air Force. No reports of forcible vaccinations or threats to do so have surfaced in either service.
Those services have punished sailors and airmen for refusing the vaccinations, which began earlier this year for 48,000 troops in the Persian Gulf or enroute there.
But the Navy is preparing to discharge sailors who refused the shots earlier this year, according to e-mails from them.
Six of the seven sailors who refused the shots on the USS Independence were removed from the ship last month when it reached Japan.
One of the sailors said they are cutting grass and painting, according to his e-mail message, while the Navy decides what kind of discharges they will get.
The seventh, Nhut M. Nguyen, a 23-year-old Vietnamese immigrant from San Rafael, Calif., is on restriction in Bremerton, Wash., and pending an other-than-honorable discharge.
Baker turned himself in to Army officials at Fort Knox, Ky., on Aug.
5 and was sent home to his parents' house in Springfield, Ohio, two
days later. His mother, Kathe Baker, said Sunday that the Army has
not decided what kind of discharge he will be offered. "They put
him on leave until he gets released," said his mother, Kathe Baker, on
Sunday. "We're just trying now to get him a better discharge."
Originally Published, Aug. 17, 1998 , Belleville News Democrat, Belleville,
(c) 1998, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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