Shot in the Arm

Anthrax vaccine opponents are finding more allies in Congress

But the congressman isn't likely to convene such a meeting. Kolbe says while there is growing interest nationally about the issue, he doubts there are enough interested people in the Tucson area to warrant a Town Hall gathering.

In the Phoenix area, Lorraine King has been trying to organize a group of citizens interested in pressuring lawmakers to call for a halt to the program. A schoolteacher and mother of an airman stationed at Luke Air Force Base, King says she got little or no support when she called the offices of McCain and U.S. Representative Bob Stump. Another call to the local American Legion office was fruitless, she says, but the national organization did tell her it has asked for a re-evaluation of the program.

Some of the opponents' concerns have been getting through to congressional leaders. A congressional subcommittee that had investigated the anthrax immunization program recently delivered a scathing report, calling for the suspension of the program until further, accelerated research can be completed and a better vaccine can be developed. The report, which was adopted last week by the full House Government Reform Committee, says use of the vaccine is not being adequately monitored, its effectiveness and safety are uncertain and the program is too broad and too logistically complex. In addition, the report says the program raises "an ominous question: Who protects the force from ill-conceived force protection?" (The 76-page report is available online at www.house.gov/reform/ns/reports/anthrax1.pdf).

In a study in a medical journal last month, researchers suggested a link between the Gulf War Syndrome and the anthrax vaccine. Pam Asa, a Tulane University Medical Center doctor who has studied auto-immune disorders, found evidence that squalene -- an experimental vaccine additive -- may have been used in the anthrax vaccine administered to troops in the Persian Gulf in 1991. Between 100,000 and 200,000 veterans of the war have complained of physical problems, including muscle aches and pain, chronic fatigue and skin problems, that are similar to those reported by others who were not in the Gulf War but have received the anthrax shots under the new program, doctors say.

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