By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Six unnamed Defense Department employees are renewing their legal battle to stop Pentagon officials from administering mandatory anthrax vaccinations, claiming that the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the shot was flawed and puts people at risk.
The employees, who are either in the military or are civilian defense workers, argue that they should not be forced to take the vaccine because there is no scientific proof that it is effective for humans and it has potentially lethal side effects, said Mark S. Zaid, a Washington lawyer who plans to file the lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The class-action lawsuit asks the court to block the Pentagon from inoculating the plaintiffs and to declare that the vaccine was improperly licensed, according to the 22-page filing.
The case is the latest chapter in a dispute that has lasted several years. It follows a lawsuit by the same group, which led a federal judge to order the mandatory vaccinations stopped in October 2004 on the grounds that an FDA review of the vaccine was insufficient. The anthrax vaccine was then administered on a voluntary basis.
After the FDA reviewed the vaccine again and approved it in December 2005, Pentagon officials announced in October that they would reinstate the mandatory vaccinations for more than 200,000 troops and defense contractors who are assigned to homeland bioterrorism defense or are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or South Korea. Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said yesterday that the mandatory program has yet to restart as officials work on implementation plans.
"We've always thought it was safe and effective," Smith said. "It's necessary to keep people safe in those areas."
Zaid said that the new lawsuit is being filed because the Pentagon chose to make the program mandatory again. He argues that defense officials should allow service members and civilian employees to choose whether to take the shot after they are informed about its risks.
"We've never been anti-vaccine, we're just against them forcing people to take it," Zaid said. "This vaccine is just completely unscientifically justified based on its effectiveness or necessity."
William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in a news conference in October that it was necessary to make the program mandatory because only about 50 percent of those who officials believe should have the vaccine were volunteering to take it.
"This rate of vaccination not only put the service members at risk but also jeopardized unit effectiveness and degraded our medical readiness," Winkenwerder said, according to a transcript.