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Anthrax Risk Kept Secret Defence Chiefs Under Fire Over Side-effects From Iraq Vaccine



  • HadIt.com Elder

Subject: Anthrax risk kept secret Defence chiefs under fire over side-effects from Iraq vaccine

Anthrax risk kept secret Defence chiefs under

fire over side-effects from Iraq vaccine

Sunday, 22 February 2004

DEFENCE chiefs admitted yesterday keeping secret a spate of serious side-effects from a controversial anthrax vaccine which was later given to troops bound for Iraq.

So many Afghanistan-bound personnel suffered adverse reactions to the vaccine that the entire anthrax vaccination program was suspended for two months in November 2001.

Almost three in four of the troops receiving the jab suffered side-effects, including swelling and pain in the injected arm and a flu-like illness which kept some on sick leave for up to 48 hours, confidential defence documents issued under Freedom of Information laws revealed. A further 97 crew posted to the Gulf aboard HMAS Darwin had also fallen ill from the vaccine.

Despite never locating the exact cause of the problem with British-made batches of the vaccine, vaccinations were resumed without telling troops heading to Iraq a year later of the concerns.

Defence health services director-general Tony Austin said the troops were already headed to a stressful environment and he saw no evidence that the problems were likely to recur. "We were in a position where all we would have been able to tell them was that there had been a problem, we had not been able to identify a cause from that and we had absolutely no evidence to suggest that we were likely to see that again, based on overseas experience and our own experience when we reinstituted the program in Iraq," Air Commodore Austin said.

"So I think to have advised people of that would have been quite counterproductive. I think that would have increased anxiety levels amongst our people."

No further cases of unusual rates of adverse reactions had been found in subsequent vaccinations, he said.

Environmental factors, such as heat, demanding physical work and emotional stress, could have been responsible for the side-effects.

But while he could not guarantee that the vaccine was 100 per cent safe, he could reassure troops who had received the vaccine and their families that their health had not been jeopardised.

Last year, 52 defence force personnel were banned from serving in Iraq after they refused orders to take the anthrax vaccine.

But Opposition defence spokesman Chris Evans demanded a public explanation from Defence Minister Robert Hill after Air Commodore Austin told a Senate committee last week that the ADF had no concerns about reactions or side effects to the vaccine.

"The Defence Department hasn't been honest with the troops, hasn't been honest with the Parliament, and the Minister needs to provide answers as to what's gone on here," Senator Evans said.

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