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Effects of Anthrax vaccine downplayed

NEWPORT NEWS, VA — The Pentagon never told Congress about more than 20,000 hospitalizations involving troops who took the anthrax vaccine from 1998 through 2000, despite repeated promises that such cases would be publicly disclosed. Instead, generals and Defense Department officials claimed that fewer than 100 people were hospitalized or became seriously ill after receiving the shot, according to an investigation by the Daily Press of Newport News.

Written policies required that public reports be filed for hospitalizations, serious illnesses and cases where someone missed 24 hours or more of duty. But only a few of the cases were actually reported; the rest were withheld from Congress and the public, according to records obtained by the Daily Press. Critics of the vaccine, veterans' advocates and congressional staffers say the Pentagon's deliberate low-balling of hospitalizations helped persuade Congress and the public that the vaccine was safe.

Withholding the full record contributed to a shorter list of government-recognized side effects for the drug, which gave patients and physicians a false idea of what might constitute a vaccine-related illness or problem. Repeated evidence of the same adverse side effect after a vaccination is one of the most telling signs of a systematic problem, vaccine safety experts say.

The newspaper found three cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig's disease, that the military hadn't reported. The disease destroys muscles and nerves, is always fatal, and rarely hits people younger than 45. One of the three cases involves Navy Capt. Denis Army of Virginia Beach, who died in 2000 after developing symptoms less than a week after his first anthrax vaccination.

His widow filed the first public acknowledgement of his death and its connection to the vaccine after talking to a Daily Press reporter and learning that she could file a report with the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Col. John Grabenstein, director of the military's vaccine agency, said no one from the military intentionally misled Congress or the public. The 20,765 hospitalizations merely followed vaccinations in time, without documented proof of a cause-and-effect relationship, he claimed. However, the data that the Daily Press used to document the underreporting came from an unpublished report that Grabenstein supplied in response to its request.

Quarterly analysis of the vaccine's effects ended just as the nation's only manufacturer, BioPort, Inc. regained its license in 2002, after a 1998 shutdown by federal inspectors who found safety and other problems. The decision to discontinue the quarterly monitoring end systematic long-term studies of the health of those who have taken the drug, the newspaper notes. Most studies that the Pentagon cites as support for the vaccine's safety involve monitoring that lasted no longer than a few months.

After the quarterly reviews stopped, more than a million troops were forced to take the vaccine — until a federal judge ruled last year that the drug had never been adequately licensed for protection against anthrax use in warfare. He ordered the military to make vaccination voluntary. The Pentagon is appealing that ruling. A decision is expected by February.

Tyson’s prayers conflict with deeds

FAYETTEVILLE, AK — Tyson Foods, the meat- and chicken-industry giant, is trying to sell God along with its chickens, beef, and pre-prepared frozen meals, Ad Age reports. The latest step is "mealtime prayer booklets" being distributed for a variety of faiths all over the world.

According to Ad Age, "What started out as the internal manifestation of Tyson's mission statement — a set of core values that includes ‘striving to be a faith-friendly company’… and ‘to honor God’ … has over the last few years morphed into placing 128 part-time chaplains in 78 plants across the country and, now, the external marketing initiative to play a part in mealtime prayer."

The prayerful image conflicts with a January 2005 report by Human Rights Watch, “Blood, Sweat and Fear,” which condemned Tyson for some less than godly behavior, including unsafe working conditions at many of its production facilities, and using illegal means to stop union organizing. Tyson workers "contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights," concluded the report.

In April, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission successfully sued Tyson Foods and former chairman Don Tyson for filing misleading disclosures, investigative journalist Doug Ireland reports. The SEC found that while Don Tyson was chairman, the company provided an estimated $3 million in personal benefits to Tyson, his wife, their daughters, and three close personal friends.

In August, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against Tyson alleging that its Alabama-based facility maintained a "whites-only" bathroom and that managers sternly disciplined black workers who complained about it, Ireland writes. The U.S. Labor Department has accused the company of cheating its workers out of $340 million in "lost" wage hours.

To underline the irony, Ad Age points to that Tyson's chairman, the born-again John Tyson, is a sometime drug addict and alcoholic.

Global Notebook is compiled and edited by Greg Guma, co-editor of Vermont Guardian.

posted December 20, 2005

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