American Forces Press Service

Confusion Causes Anthrax Flap


  By Jim Garamone
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON -- A misreading of a routine contracting 
 procedure caused a spate of news stories June 29 that 
 questioned whether DoD's anthrax vaccine is safe. 
 Army and DoD officials issued statements clarifying the 
 contract provision and reassuring service members and their 
 families that the vaccine is safe.
 The news stories said Army Secretary Louis Caldera signed a 
 document in September 1998 that agrees to shift product 
 liability risks from vaccine maker BioPort Corp. to the 
 government. In other words, potential litigants would sue 
 the government, not BioPort.
 "We do this in lieu of the company having to buy 
 insurance," said Lt. Col. David Stockwell, Caldera's 
 spokesman. The Army is the executive agent for the anthrax 
 vaccination program.
 In a written response to the news coverage, Caldera called 
 the legal relief a "standard indemnification clause." He 
 said it would "ensure a continuous supply of anthrax 
 vaccine to America's soldiers without exposing BioPort to a 
 level of product liability risk which might cause the 
 company to cease production of this sole-source vaccine for 
 fear of open-ended legal claims."
 Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said DoD does not expect 
 lawsuits and likened indemnification to insurance. "We all 
 buy insurance for things we don't anticipate will ever 
 happen, such as fire insurance for houses or libel 
 insurance for newspapers," he said during a June 29 press 
 conference. "This was [BioPort] seeking a type of 
 insurance, indemnification from suits, should they arise."
 Bacon said everything about the Food and Drug 
 Administration-approved vaccine shows it is "incredibly 
 safe." Evidence includes the results of supplemental DoD-
 ordered tests done by a private company, he noted.
 "There have been 79 adverse reactions out of nearly 900,000 
 shots given so far," Bacon said. "This is a lower adverse 
 reaction rate than in the [diphtheria, polio, tetanus] 
 vaccine that all our children have received."
 He called the newspaper article that initially caused the 
 confusion a disservice to a program designed to protect 
 American service members from a biological warfare threat 
 with a 99 percent fatality rate.