A vaccine ordered by the Clinton administration for military servicemembers in 1998 was believed to have caused thousands of soldiers to develop Gulf War Syndrome.
The vaccines mandated from 1998-2004 were ordered for use on all US military members ostensibly because they were in danger of anthrax bio-weapon attacks.
Military refusals and subsequent punishments
The compulsory order didn’t sit well with many soldiers who feared serious adverse vaccine side effects, especially since the vaccine manufacturer was censured that same year by the FDA for failing to meet quality standards.
“During the first eight years that the Pentagon ran the anthrax vaccination program, hundreds of troops refused the vaccine due to perceived health risks or religious concerns — and many of them paid dearly for that decision,” recalled Military Times.
In 1999, the military prosecuted its first-ever court-martial of vehicle mechanic and Airman 1st Class Colby Bickley, out of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, who refused to take the vaccine.
At the time, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Carey Capell of the 55th Aerospace Medicine Squadron spoke highly of the vaccine, stating “This vaccine has a 30-year track record of safety, and there have been no reported long-term adverse side effects at all…Compared to a lot of other vaccines, the anthrax vaccine has actually proven itself to be more safe than most of the other routine vaccinations out there.”
Records also document how an appeals court held up the court-martial of Airman Christopher B. Washington, who refused to take a sixth anthrax vaccine while deployed in Saudi Arabia in 1999.
“Appellant, who was stationed in the United States, received five of the six vaccinations without objection. In 1999, he was deployed to Saudi Arabia, where he declined to receive the sixth vaccination,” the court wrote. “On December 21, his squadron commander ordered him to receive the required vaccination. Appellant refused to obey the order, and he received nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ, 10 USC § 815, for disobedience of the order.”
Meanwhile, fierce debate was taking place in the halls of Congress over the safety of the vaccine.
Former Indiana Rep. Dan Burton (R) demanded answers and an investigation during a Sept. 29, 1999, House hearing, saying he’d received reports that “numerous members of the military reserve units, active duty units, and civilian defense employees…have been injured by this vaccine.”
However, the Pentagon did not drop the program, and the military refusals and subsequent punishments continued.
“Years ago, official Pentagon statements indicated that an estimated 350 servicemembers had refused the vaccine between 1998 to 2000. At least three dozen of them were court-martialed and hundreds left the service to avoid the vaccine, according to Pentagon statements in 2005,” reported the Military Times, admitting bad record-keeping during that period led to unreliable data on precisely how many servicemembers appealed the court-martials.
“Also, at least another 149 troops were forced out of the service for vaccine refusal from 2000 to 2004.”
But by October 2004, the mandatory injections were halted after they were deemed illegal following an Institute of Medicine assessment which questioned whether the FDA had properly licensed the vaccine based on its own antiquated standards, not to mention there was scant evidence the vaccine was effective against inhalation anthrax, as claimed by the manufacturer.
The next year, the FDA still gave the experimental vaccine the official go-ahead, and the following year the military’s vaccination program resumed, although this time it was offered on a voluntary, informed consent basis.
However, by this time many more servicemembers had grown wary of the controversy surrounding the vaccine.
“Half of U.S. military and civilian personnel offered anthrax vaccinations under a voluntary program that began in May have refused the inoculation,” according to figures reported in a 2005 DoD press release.
“The high refusal rate comes amid persisting complaints by some servicepeople and nongovernmental experts that the U.S. military has been reluctant to acknowledge a connection between the vaccine and uncommon but potentially debilitating side effects, which they say has hindered access to medical benefits and compensation,” Global Security Newswire reported.
What kind of “debilitating side effects” did servicemembers fear the vaccines were causing?
Many British and US soldiers given the vaccines believed they were causing them to develop Gulf War Syndrome, a chronic illness that presents itself in a variety of unexplained symptoms including “fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems,” according to Military.com.
In 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs research advisory committee released a report titled, Scientific Progress in Understanding Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses: Report and Recommendations.
“Reports have indicated that the anthrax vaccine administered during the Gulf War, commonly referred to as AVA (anthrax vaccine absorbed) is associated with a relatively high rate of acute adverse reactions, and have pointed out that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether the AVA vaccine formulation may be associated with long-term health” effects, the committee wrote in its report.
Researchers in 2000 pointed to the presence of a chemical adjuvant in the vaccines called squalene, which occurs naturally in the human body, but which was not listed among chemicals contained in the vaccine.
After finding numerous male Gulf War veterans were developing lupus, more commonly found in females, Tulane University immunologist Dr. Pam Asa developed a test to measure squalene antibodies, which appeared to be the likely culprit.
Both UK And US soldiers were tested and most who were given the vaccine were found to have squalene antibodies.
“The common factor for the 275,000 British and US veterans who are ill appears to be a substance called squalene, allegedly used in injections to add to their potency,” reported The Guardian in 2001. “Such an action would have been illegal. Squalene is not licensed for use on either side of the Atlantic because of potential side effects.”
Other possible causes for Gulf War Syndrome, including exposure to environmental toxins while deployed, were ruled out after the illness was also found in non-deployed servicemembers.
“Dr. Asa said in her view the fact that even non-deployed veterans were testing positive for squalene provided conclusive evidence that vaccinations were a ‘major cause’ of the condition,” The Guardian noted. “It ruled out the alternative environmental theories floated as causes of Gulf war syndrome.”
“I believe that those people who were given vaccinations in the US and the UK were given something they should not have been, probably in the anthrax vaccine. [The results] need a thorough examination by the US and UK governments,” Dr. Asa stated.
The DoD maintained it did not intentionally add squalene to the vaccine’s formulation.
An Institute of Medicine committee formed to investigate the vaccine’s connection to Gulf War Syndrome in 2000 furthermore dismissed squalene as a cause, concluding, “The committee concludes that there is inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an association does or does not exist between anthrax vaccination and long-term adverse health effects.”
It was later hypothesized the presence of squalene in some lots of the vaccine could be due to contamination and lab error “likely due to fingerprint oil remaining on the test tube,” wrote the Hill and Ponton law firm.
However, by this time many including author Gary Matsumoto were highly skeptical of any official squalene explanation.
Matsumoto, who wrote, Vaccine A: The Covert Government Experiment That’s Killing Our Soldiers–and Why GI’s Are Only the First Victims, believed the government was attempting to cover up the squalene link for nefarious reasons.
In his book, Matsumoto wrote that “by questioning the safety of squalene, Asa imperiled more than 80 percent of the existing NIH-sponsored clinical trials for vaccines to prevent HIV.”
A recent 2019 study published in the Journal of Neurology & Neuromedicine looked at the possibility that the presence of a harmful anthrax protective antigen known as PA63 could be one of the culprits behind Gulf War Syndrome.
“This antigen is associated with the anthrax vaccine which was administered to GW-veterans in the form of proteins, mainly PA83, contained in the ‘Biothrax’ vaccine,” researchers explained.
Doomed to repeat history?
Regardless whether squalene or some other vaccine ingredient caused Gulf War Syndrome, the fact the Pentagon ordered military servicemembers to forcibly inject themselves with an illegal experimental substance years before the FDA actually approved it parallels with current happenings.
Despite the military’s past vaccine missteps, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs John Kirby announced Wednesday that vaccine-hesitant troops would be pressured to take experimental COVID injections, with physicians and commanding officers badgering them until they make the “right decision.”
As philosopher George Santayana opined, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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