Marine Corps Times
May 10, 1999
LAWMAKER: HOLD ANTHRAX SHOTS
Reports of Squalene Antibodies in Gulf War Veterans Cited
By Deborah Funk
Times Staff Writer
A North Carolina congressman has asked the Pentagon to stop immunizing service members against anthrax until defense officials conduct a "more thorough examination" of possible side effects.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N-C., pointed to reports that independent researchers have found evidence of squalene antibodies in sick Gulf War veterans, including those who did not deploy.
Scientists have been experimenting with squalene - a substance found naturally in shark and human livers - to see if it can boost the effectiveness of vaccines by improving the body's immune response. It hasn't been licensed for general use by the Food and Drug Administration.
The body produces antibodies to neutralize toxins, proteins and other substances, which is how the body develops immunity.
The presence of squalene anti-bodies in Persian Gulf War veterans indicates they came in contact with squalene somehow, but the Defense Department says it wasn't part of the anthrax vaccine given to Gulf War vets.
Congress asked the General Accounting Office to look into the matter, but investigators couldn't determine whether Gulf War veterans were given vaccines containing squalene. GAO recommended the Defense Department test veterans for squalene anti-bodies to determine the extent of their presence and whether they are a factor in Gulf War illnesses.
But Pentagon officials declined, saying they would wait until the researchers' work is published in a scientific journal before considering whether to test veterans.
In a letter to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Jones urged the department to test the veterans now and suspend the anthrax vaccination program until possible health risks are ruled out.
Jones said he understands the importance of protecting troops against biological warfare. But, he said, "I am concerned the department may be moving ahead with implementation of an anthrax vaccine program prior to conducting the full range of scientific and medical tests necessary to appropriately reduce the risks of unintended health consequences for those required to receive the inoculation...
"I urge you to impose a moratorium on involuntary anthrax vaccinations until a more thorough examination of the connection between previous vaccinations and adverse health effects has been completed," Jones wrote.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said the anthrax vaccine has been licensed for nearly 30 years with a solid safety record.
"The question one has to ask is what would happen if there were an anthrax attack and we hadn't taken precautionary measures to protect our troops," Bacon said.
The only times the Defense Department has used squalene in vaccines given to people were in five tightly controlled, voluntary clinical trials, three for malaria and two for HIV vaccines, a Pentagon spokesman said. Military researchers used squalene as a vaccine-enhancer in several studies involving animals, the spokesman said. The anthrax vaccine was one of those tested.
Gulf War Vets Home Page.