Reservists Leave to Avoid Anthrax Vaccine

ByABC News
October 11, 2000, 6:17 PM

W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 11 -- Countering military assertions that refusals to take the anthrax vaccine are having little impact, a congressional study finds it is the leading cause cited by pilotsand aircrew members for leaving National Guard and reserve units.

The Pentagon questioned the results today, saying guard andreserve strength and readiness is unaffected. But officersacknowledged they have no data of their own on how many reservistsare leaving rather than taking the shots.

Combined with congressional testimony from former and presentreservists claiming persecution for refusing the vaccine, theGeneral Accounting Office survey adds to congressional pressure onthe Pentagon to give up its beleaguered vaccination program. Avaccine shortage has limited them to forces in East Asia and thePersian Gulf area.

2,000 Lost?In a House Government Reform Committee hearing today,commercial pilot Tom Heemstra estimated that 2,100 pilots from theAir National Guard and Air Force Reserves would be lost if thevaccination program continues. A year ago, Heemstra had alsocomplained in congressional testimony about having to take theanthrax vaccine as a squadron commander in the Indiana Air NationalGuard.

Heemstra, of Lexington, Ky., who said he was forced to retirefor his refusal, said anthrax has caused more than 200 resignationsso far at several bases around the country. He provided thecommittee with a list of coded names of some pilots who have left,saying military authorities are falsely reporting the numbers ofdepartures linked to the vaccine.

Accusing Pentagon officers of abusing their power, he said,They coerced, intimidated, threatened and punished in order toenforce this program.

Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., holding his secondanthrax hearing this month, accused the director of the AirNational Guard of lying about the effect of the vaccine ondepartures from the guard, and suggested Maj. Gen. Paul A. WeaverJr. should face court-martial.