Thursday, May 05, 2005

Anti anthrax

According to this (five month old) article, the Government wishes to Restart Anthrax Vaccines. A federal District Court ruled that mandatory Anthrax vaccines may not be administered, but the Military wants an emergency order to restart the vaccines. They claim safety issues for their soldiers.

Many military members believe that the vaccine is not safe. They think that it causes side effects that they don't want to deal with simply to prevent the "chance" that someone might use Anthrax against them.
Additionally, as far as I can tell, there's not been any field studies to see if the vaccine, which was developed for subcutaneous anthrax would work against the inhaled Anthrax that would be used in a war scenario.

"America's best scientists say the Anthrax vaccine is safe and effective," [assistant secretary of defense for health affairs Dr. William] Winkenwerder asserted.

Approximately 450 military members have refused the vaccine, of whom about 100 have been Court Martialled for failing to obey a lawful order.

The reason that the mandatory vaccine was ruled against, I'd surmise, is that a person has a right to dominion over their body. Cheif Justice Rehnquist stated in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health (457 U.S. 261) that "at common law, even the touching of one person by another without consent and without legal justification was a battery. [The] logical corrolary of the doctrine of informed consent is that the patient generally possesses the right NOT to consent, that is, to refuse treatment." (emphasis added)
This should mean that military members should have the right to determine whether or not to have a vaccine, which I can't picture being anything other than a medical procedure, however, the military feels that it's in their (the military's) best interest to force these vaccines on unwilling subjects.

I oppose mandatory vaccinations of consenting adults, and I believe that any order that would force someone to receive treatment they did not consent to cannot be a lawful order. I hope that the efforts to restart the Anthrax vaccine fails.

5 comments:! said...

i thought that if you join the military, you pretty much give up your rights. doesn't the military own you? i know that's not entirely true and i admit i know nothing about it. i'm also not a big fan of vaccines. if i ever have a kid, it's going to be interesting to see what i give in to and what i refuse to do. i'm already a rebel with my animals and vaccines.

Bookworm said...

The problem, perhaps, is that the military owns the right to a viable fighting force. As WWI and the Spanish Influenza showed, a vulnerable fighting force is no force at all. And fighting forces -- where large numbers of men are grouped together -- are particularly vulnerable.

Indeed, historically, some of the major battles and wars were lost, not because of battlefield failures, but because of disease. Many believe that the Philistine defeat in 1 Samuel, from Emerods, was from plague. We know that the Athenian plague in 430 B.C. changed the outcome of the Peloponnesian Wars. The Huns, who were on a roll in the early 5th Century, retreated abruptly when plague struck. The First Crusade in 1098 (isn't there a movie about that?) was derailed by a horrible plague at Antioch, decimating the Christian troops. To move closer to modern times, disease destroyed French troops trying to stem the 1801 rebellion in Haiti. Napoleon's troops were also devastated by Typus in Russia. (Incidentally, I'm getting all this info from a great little book, Hans Zinsser's Rats, Lice and History.)

Soldiers are also major disease vectors, since they are unusually mobile. Again, the Spanish Influenza is a good example. An older example is the Plague of Galen, in about 165 A.D., which started in the military and eventually spread through the known world.

Having said this, it seems to me that the military has an extraordinarily strong historical interest in doing everything it can to protect its troops from disease. And, as every epidemic shows, the risk of vaccinations is almost invariably less than the horrific risks of the disease itself. (A case in point is playing out right now with the spread of polio in Indonesia, probably transferred from Africa, where Zimbabwe (I think) stopped all vaccinations.)

Leann said...

If I recall my days in the military corectly, while you're in your body belongs to the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc. Has that changed?

Steve said...

Hi Leann, and welcome to my site!

The idea that your body belongs to the military is a bit of a misnomer. When you enlist, you swear to obey lawful orders. The dilemma here is determining whether or not being subjected to a vaccination you don't wish to receive is a lawful order. The military says it is, and points to necessity under National Security and the need for a healthy fighting force.

Bookworm, I would argue that the armies you cited are distinguished from today's military. First, they succomed to naturally occurring diseases, though I don't think that's dispositive here. Second, those armies were conscripts. They were forced into service by their governments. Today's military consists of volunteers, who choose to defend their nation. This is important when considering liberty. In this instance, the liberty is the freedom to have the right to accept or refuse medical care. Because it's a volunteer military, these men and women should be allowed to decide for themselves whether this vaccine is right for them.
The other real issue I have with this is the lack of alternatives. You have two choices, either get a shot that you don't agree with, or you (ultimately) suffer a federal conviction. Perhaps, if the military offered severence from one's military obligation as an alternative, for the ones who object so strenuously, there would be less of an issue.
Incidentally, in 1999, approximately 40 pilots at Dover AFB in Delaware resigned their commissions in lieu of receiving their shots. In other words, they were not subjected to Courts Martial, which demonstrates unequal treatment under the law...

Bookworm said...

Steve, I would say it's the reverse. I think it's worse to try to impose vaccinations on a conscript army, than on soldiers who knowingly sign up.

Of course, disclosure is important. The army should say up front: "Historically, diseases have devasted an army's efficiency (and have killed more men than all battles put together). We believe that we can prevent this by selective use of vaccines. If you sign up with the army (or navy, etc.), you agree to accept the vaccinations the army requires of you."

Having said that, I would also impose full civil liability on the army if it knowingly uses highly risky vaccines. I say this because someone told me that the Anthrax vaccination turned out to be the result of potentially fraudulent testing. I don't know if the fraud was in the public or private sector, but that's dreadful.