A judge in Washington has warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld he could face contempt for ignoring a ruling on Pentagon anthrax vaccinations.
In October, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan largely struck down the U.S. military’s involuntary vaccinations for weaponized anthrax.
The judge said the program could not be administered unless individual service members give “informed consent” to the vaccinations, President Bush issues a specific waiver or the Food And Drug Administration properly classifies a drug for use in the program.
A 1999 executive order by then President Bill Clinton required “informed consent” before administering the vaccine.
Monday, Sullivan ordered “Donald H. Rumsfeld” to “show cause by Feb. 28” why “he/or the government should not be held in contempt” for failing to follow the earlier ruling.
Goldberg provides some background information that the Times’ article omits.
After the post–September 11 anthrax scare, and especially in the run-up to the Iraq War, the Pentagon has forced many thousands of soldiers to take the anthrax vaccine. A not insignificant number of these soldiers experienced severe, and sometimes crippling, adverse reactions from the shot. As word spread through the ranks, soldiers began to refuse the order to take the anthrax vaccine; many of those refuseniks have since been discharged and even court-martialed for their insubordination.
Sullivan’s October 27 ruling stems from a case in which six anonymous servicemembers who refused to take the vaccine filed suit against the Department of Defense. The plaintiffs alleged that the vaccine that the soldiers were routinely ordered to take was never legally approved as a countermeasure against the inhalation form of anthrax. In 1970 the federal government licensed an anthrax vaccine as a protection against cutaneous forms of anthrax; the current anthrax vaccine injected into soldiers to protect them from inhalation anthrax was based on that license.
Back in October, Sullivan ruled that the FDA failed to follow its own licensing procedure for the vaccine and ordered the program halted until the FDA re-licenses the vaccine, soldiers are granted the right to refuse to take the vaccine, or the president waives the right of informed consent. “Absent an informed consent or presidential waiver,” Sullivan wrote in his October 27 opinion, “the United States cannot demand that members of the armed forces also serve as guinea pigs for experimental drugs.”
Despite this ruling, the DOD continued to administer the vaccine. Some estimates put the number of those vaccinated in violation of the court’s order at upwards of 900 soldiers.