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Debate Continues Over Safety of Anthrax Vaccine

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FAYETTEVILLE — Theanthraxvaccine is under attack on Capitol Hill. A House committee says the vaccine is experimental, understudied and troops should not be required to take it.

The father of a Fort Bragg soldier supports a congressional report released Thursday encouraging the military to stop anthrax vaccinations.

Toney Edwards' son Kevin got sick a few weeks after he started taking the controversial vaccine in 1998. Kevin's arm and chest were covered with blisters.

"When I saw him he couldn't open his eyes, he looked like he was just pulled out of a fire. He was just completely black from his knees up," says Toney.

Thousands of Fort Bragg soldiers like Kevin have been immunized against anthrax. Toney Edwards says his son's skin is healing, but he is losing his vision. Toney believes soldiers should have a choice about taking the vaccine.

"I have no problem with the military attempting to give shots or vaccines to protect the troops, because they have to," he says. "I just really believe that it must be safe."

Peter Gilligan studies biological agents like anthrax at UNC Hospitals. He has read the congressional report that was released Thursday. He says the safety of the vaccine is in question, and more studies are needed to prove it is safe.

"We always try to get informed consent. That is a standard of medical practice in this country and they should have that choice," he says.

A spokesman for Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne says an activeanthrax vaccine immunization programcontinues because there is a threat of biological warfare in parts of the world where Fort Bragg troops are deployed.

The spokesman says any decision about halting the program would come from the Pentagon and the Department of Defense. The Threat:The real threat of anthrax became evident during the Gulf War. In 1990, inspectors found Iraq had produced 8,000 liters of anthrax spores -- enough to kill every person on the planet.

The government believes at least six other countries, including Iran, Libya and North Korea, are experimenting with biological weapons. About Anthrax:Anthrax has been around for thousands of years. The fifth Egyptian plague, around 1500 B.C., is believed to be the result of anthrax.

The vaccine was first mass produced 75 years ago in Michigan. It was licensed for regular use in 1970.

Defense Secretary Cohen approved a plan to vaccinate all troops in 1998. As of this past January, 1.4 million doses have been given to 390,000 service members.

Thirty-six people have been court-martialed for refusing to take the shots, and about 350 others have faced some kind of discipline.

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Stephanie Hawco, Reporter
Jim Young, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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