Ex-AF Officer Says Anthrax Vaccine Ended His Career


San Antonio Express-News August 17, 2002

Ex-AF Officer Says Anthrax Vaccine Ended His Career

By Sig Christenson, Express-News Military Writer

As an Air Force weapons controller, Capt. Gregory Armand served his nation in such far-flung parts of the world as Alaska and the Persian Gulf.

But Armand, a 36-year-old San Antonian, said his decadelong career ended after he took a shot not from a bullet, but from a syringe filled with anthrax vaccine. Once a ground and airborne weapons control officer who tracked up to 80 planes at a time, Armand's ability to concentrate is so bad now he can't even fill out a check.

"It makes me sound very stupid," he said. "I am not, really."

Armand was joined at a news conference Friday by a former F-16 squadron commander and the mother of an Austin-area soldier who claimed the vaccine is dangerous.

The issue has been controversial since the Defense Department began vaccinating large numbers of troops in 1998. Scores of officers and enlistees defied the Pentagon order to begin taking the vaccine a series of six shots over 18 months thinking the drug might be lethal.

At least 450 troops have been court-martialed, given nonjudicial punishment, or discharged for refusing to be vaccinated, the Defense Department reported Friday. Just three left the military over the matter in 2001.

Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner described the drug as safe, noting that the Food and Drug Administration has approved it for use. He said reactions to the drug have been "very much in line with any other kind of vaccine."

The vaccine also has caused no deaths among the 525,000 who have received one or more shots in the series, he said.

But retired Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas S. Heemstra and Teresa Jones echoed Armand's claims.

"Please do not leave today without a full sense of the injustice that's been done to these victims who only wanted to serve their country and be the best soldiers, Marines and airmen they could be," Heemstra, 43, said at the news conference.

A commercial airline pilot who once commanded an F-16 squadron with the Indian Air National Guard, Heemstra led a skirmish against Pentagon plans to inoculate his pilots. The battle began after he and others began researching the vaccine. After one briefing, Heemstra said, all those who attended vowed to quit before taking the vaccine.

"All of them were volunteers to die for their country at the hands of the enemy, but they weren't going to die because of our country's incompetence," said Heemstra, who has written a book on the issue, "Anthrax: A Deadly Shot in the Dark."

Armand said he and a partner in a ground weapons team suffered flu-like symptoms after taking an anthrax shot with six or seven other inoculations in 1990. Deployed to the Persian Gulf, he said they never got over the fever, body aches and bloody diarrhea they suffered. The other man later died.

"His wife said (the cause of death) was unknown. They had just divorced; he was acting bizarre," Armand said.

Then-Spc. Joseph Jones, 26, of Cedar Park, just north of Austin, fell ill with what seemed like a bad case of the flu after taking his first anthrax shot in Kuwait in 1999. It was on the fourth shot, however, that Teresa Jones said her son suffered the first of more than 250 seizures.

Jones, who was working Friday, still suffers from muscular aches, severe headaches and bloody diarrhea. When he blacks out, he see stars and spots and remembers nothing afterward, his mother said.

Discharged in 1999 with no benefits, he's divorced, lives with his mother, and works as a part-time computer salesman.

"It's almost like dealing with Alzheimer's," said Teresa Jones, a 47-year-old secretary in Austin. "And he's only 26."


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