Saturday, January 22, 2000

5 Guard members discharged after refusing shots

Blue Ash squadron members declined anthrax precaution

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Five members of a Cincinnati-area National Guard unit were discharged from service Friday for refusing to take ordered anthrax vaccinations.

        About 130 members of the Air Control Squadron, based in Blue Ash, were to take the vaccinations in November as a standard precaution against biological warfare. The squadron shipped out in December to help support allied jet fighters patrolling southern Iraq, which has been accused of stockpiling biological weapons.

        The five who refused the shots remained in Ohio while the Guard's legal process slowly ground out their dismissals. Ohio National Guard spokesman Capt. Neal O'Brien said the discharges became official after several failed attempts to get them to change their minds.

        “People leave the National Guard for a lot of reasons. We didn't want this to be one of them,” said Capt. O'Brien. “This is a protective measure.”

        But some have become wary of the shots, citing rumors of a potential link between the vaccinations and the so-called Gulf War Syndrome many soldiers reported after returning from the 1991 war with Iraq.

        Senior Airman Laverne Owens is the only one of the five dismissed guardsmen who was willing to identify herself. On Friday she said her concerns for her health were more important than serving.

        “I prayed on it. My spirit said it wasn't for me,” she said.

        She also said she had hoped to continue in the Guard. But when an official notice was mailed to her over the holidays informing her of her last chance for an appeal, she decided not to open it.

        Anthrax is a deadly bacteria that is a popular biological weapon because it can survive in spore form for decades.

        A U.S. Department of Defense Web site describes how the spores activate in a human's lungs after they are inhaled. They quickly multiply and secrete toxins, killing an unvaccinated person within 24 to 36 hours of exposure.

        Signs of infection include flulike symptoms, fatigue and mild chest discomfort, followed by severe breathing difficulties. According to the Web site, there is no effective treatment for infection other than the shots.

        Of the 1 million or so soldiers given anthrax shots, Capt. O'Brien said 24 exhibited serious side effects. He said all those soldiers recovered and are still serving.

        Capt. O'Brien, citing privacy protections, declined to say whether Senior Airman Owens and the other four guardsmen were given honorable, general or dishonorable discharges.


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