Feds Pushing Toxic Anthrax Drug?
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FEDS PUSHING TOXIC ANTHRAX DRUG?
By Elliot Borin
October 24, 2002
Many veterans advocates believe a certain anthrax vaccine to be a major
cause of Gulf War sickness. The company manufacturing it has launched a
massive lobbying campaign to persuade the Bush administration to stockpile
the controversial drug so it can be administered to civilians.
Armed with a report prepared by a panel of company-paid scientific guns for
hire, Lansing, Michigan-based BioPort is urging Congress to create a
"civilian equivalent of the U.S. military's Anthrax Vaccine Immunization
BioPort cites anthrax-bearing letters received by Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)
and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) as evidence that the United States needs "an
articulated preparedness plan for immediate immunizations of at-risk
civilians (and) a strategic anthrax vaccination stockpile" of the company's
BioThraxin (known as MDPH-PA or AVA before January 2000).
But some experts say the vaccine, which has been repeatedly withdrawn from
distribution following FDA and congressional investigations, might not have
been effective against the bio-engineered tech strain of anthrax mailed to
Daschle and Leahy.
"The technology behind the Daschle letter, later the Leahy letter, was very
sophisticated," said Francis Boyle, professor of law at the University of
Illinois and a principal author of the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act
"(It contained) a trillion spores per gram," Boyle said. "That is
super-weapons grade. Second, tied in there was a special treatment to
eliminate electrostatic charges so it would float in the air. You have to
have special equipment, special treatment, special everything.
"The only people who would have the capability to do this would be
individuals who either are currently employed by the Department of Defense
or the CIA doing biowarfare work, or had been employed by the Department of
Defense or the CIA doing biowarfare work."
According to BioPort, which counts the Pentagon as its only anthrax-vaccine
customer, over 2 million doses of its vaccines "have been given to over
500,000 service men and women."
But some critics contend the company may come to regret even mentioning the
AVIP in its bid to add the compound to the nation's civilian preparedness
Originally known as the "total-force anthrax vaccination program," AVIP was
launched by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen in late 1997. Cohen's
original order called for all 2.4 million members of the active and reserve
armed forces to receive six shots of the vaccine over an 18-month period,
followed by annual booster shots.
Also in 1997, Ret. Admiral William Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff under Presidents Reagan and Bush and Bill Clinton's chief defender
against charges of draft-dodging during the 1992 campaign, stepped down as
President Clinton's ambassador to Britain. After returning to civilian life,
Crowe purchased a substantial interest in BioPort, which received a Defense
Department contract to supply the vaccine for the AVIP program shortly
(Crowe has also been accused by some in the military, including Ret. Air
Force Major Glenn MacDonald, editor in chief of MilitaryCorruption.com, of
being involved in the sale of the anthrax bacillus (Bacillus anthracis) to
Saddam Hussein during Iraq's war with Iran.)
Mindful of evidence purportedly linking the anthrax drug to unusually high
rates of brain tumors and other cancers, unremitting headaches, chronic
insomnia and drug-side-effect-related deaths among Gulf War veterans and
other military personnel who had received the vaccine, some Defense
Department doctors refused to administer the drug, and numerous service
personnel refused to take the shots.
At least 37 dissenters have been court-martialed and many career officers
have resigned from the service rather than submit to vaccination.
Despite the Pentagon's favorable response to a BioPort request for
indemnification from liability from "the unusually hazardous risks
associated with potentially severe adverse reactions ... of the AVA," the
FDA halted implementation of the "total-force" program in 1998. Citing
quality-control problems at BioPort's manufacturing facility, the FDA
ordered the company to cease shipment of the vaccine.
In June 1999, BioPort informed the Defense Department that it would run out
of cash Aug. 1 and was unable to borrow enough funds to continue operations.
Hoping to get the vaccination program back on track, the Pentagon agreed to
raise the per-dose price of MDPH-PA from $4.36 to $10.64. As part of the new
deal, the Defense Department also gave BioPort an $18.7 million
interest-free advance payment.
Despite contractual conditions restricting the use of the advance payment to
vaccine-production-related expenses, a Department of Defense inspector
general's audit in 2000 revealed that over $2 million of the money was spent
on office furniture for BioPort's CEO, travel and other unrelated expenses.
Like Gen. Douglas MacArthur's old soldier of oratory fame, the "total-force"
program finally faded away after a congressional investigation of Gulf War
sickness revealed that the Pentagon had lied about the use of squalene, an
enzyme thought to improve vaccine effectiveness but not approved by the FDA,
"We have an obligation to pursue the truth, wherever it may lead us," Rep.
Jack Metcalf said in announcing the squalene findings and calling for the
termination of the AVIP program. "To do less would be to act dishonorably
toward the dedicated men and women who stand between us and a
In September, the Defense Department announced resumption of a scaled-down
AVIP program to be administered "consistent with U.S. Food and Drug
Administration-approved labeling and the best practice of medicine."
Three companies -- two of them working under contracts issued earlier this
month by the Department of Health and Human Services -- are vying to produce
a genetically engineered anthrax vaccine without the risks of BioThraxin,
which is manufactured from a non-lethal variant of the anthrax bacteria.
FDA approval of any new anthrax vaccine is expected to take up to seven
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