Monday, February 28, 2005

THE AMERICAN PROSPECT has an important article, by Mark Leon Goldberg, about the serious health risks associated with the anthrax vaccine that over a million U.S. soldiers have taken since 1998. That was the year that the Army signed a contract with the vaccine manufacturer, BioPort Corp in Lansing, Michigan, guaranteeing the pharmaceutical firm complete immunity from product-liability lawsuits.

Now the Bush administration is working with representatives from drug manufacturers to pressure Congress into giving the manufacturers sweetheart deals to develop new bioterrorism vaccines. If Bush and the pharmas have their way, these deals would come with sweeping protections against product-liability lawsuits.

Under a provision of “The Protecting America in the War on Terror Act 2005” (the likely legislative vehicle of BioShield II), introduced by Senator Judd Gregg in January, manufacturers of bioterrorism vaccines would be granted just that. Even if they make a faulty product, those manufacturers would be indemnified from punitive lawsuits. Except in extreme cases of fraud, someone injured by a poorly manufactured bioterrorism vaccine would not be able to collect anything more than $250,000 in compensatory damages.

It gets worse. Even after it becomes crystal clear that a vaccine is unsafe, the Defense Department has little or no incentive to stop using it, because DOD buys the vaccines in such huge quantities. Nor will soldiers who are disabled as a result of taking the vaccine be able to hold the Defense Department legally liable: by law, the DOD is indemnified from any responsibility for adverse health consequences stemming from the vaccines. "Under a 1950 Supreme Court decision that has come to be known as the Feres Doctrine, the federal government is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injuries to members of the armed forces sustained while on active duty."

You would think that, given the many ways in which the military is protected from any legal or economic consequences of requiring soldiers to take vaccines that could disable them for life, they would at least be a little flexible about soldiers who don't want to take the vaccine. But that is not the case, either. Over the years, news of the vaccine's health risks filtered through the ranks, and many soldiers started to refuse to be vaccinated. They have not been treated gently. In fact, a number of them have been discharged from the Army, and according to the Prospect at least 100 have been court-martialed on charges of insubordination.

Gives a whole new meaning to "supporting the troops," doesn't it?

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