Anthrax vaccine blamed for illness
Book claims Gulf War GIs were guinea pigs
By Bartholomew Sullivan
November 17, 2004
(must register to view original article)
WASHINGTON -- Mark Ammend of Collierville can't talk about it now.
The former fire chief for the 164th Air National Guard unit based at
Memphis International Airport got vaccinated against anthrax five years
ago. Now, as he lies in a specially designed bed, the only thing he can
move is his left eye.
Fully conscious and aware, Ammend, 55, is a quadriplegic with
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.
A new book suggests he and many other soldiers immunized against anthrax
during the 1991 Gulf War and since are suffering auto-immune diseases
after receiving an illegal chemical adjuvant -- a chemical designed to
boost the immune system -- called squalene.
The Pentagon adamantly disagrees and insists that the vaccine is safe.
In his just-published "Vaccine A: The Covert Government Experiment
That's Killing Our Soldiers and Why G.I.'s Are Only the First Victims,"
author Gary Matsumoto suggests Memphis was the key to the immunological
"The whole idea originated in Memphis," he said in an interview.
That idea came from Pamela B. Asa, a former Memphis immunologist now
living in Tupelo who collaborates with Robert F. Garry, a professor of
microbiology at the Tulane University Medical School in New Orleans. Asa
and Garry made the connection between squalene, which has not been
authorized for use in humans in the United States, and what has been
called Gulf War Syndrome in an article in Experimental and Molecular
Pathology in 2002.
Auto-immune diseases such as ALS, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are
chronic and increasingly debilitating. They occur when the body can't
distinguish between itself and foreign substances it's supposed to
attack. Thirty years of scientific literature has shown squalene and
other oil adjuvants have induced auto-immune-like illnesses in four
species of lab animals. Squalene has never been licensed for use in
humans in this country, although it is an element of a variety of
Asa began looking into the connection between the constellation of
symptoms associated with the soldiers' syndrome in 1994, and went to the
Pentagon with her concerns. She said she found that many of the soldiers
complaining of rashes, fatigue, blackouts, seizures, and joint and
muscle pain looked like they had systemic lupus erythematosus, a
multi-symptomatic auto-immune disease.
She monitored discussions on Gulf War Syndrome chat rooms, and
recommended medical tests that those who were suspicious about their
health might take. Word got around, and some shared seriology data with
Matsumoto wrote about her suspicions for the first time in 1999, in
Vanity Fair magazine, prompting some soldiers in bases around the
country to protest taking their anthrax shots. Many others soldiered on,
and took them.
At least four members of the 164th Air Guard unit in Memphis quit in
1999 rather than take the shots. But more than 800 took them, according
to unit officials at the time.
Ammend, the Air Guard fire chief in Memphis for 11 years and a soldier
since 1972, took his first anthrax shot in 1999. He took the last one in
April 2000. In 2002, he could still walk, his wife, Mary, said Tuesday.
He now lies, mouth open, in his living room, on a respirator 24 hours a
"I understand why it was done, or why it was needed," Mary Ammend said.
"But I just feel it could -- there should have been more care taken for
the FDA to study it before they started dishing it out to the guys."
Three members of the 164th ANG unit in Memphis approached Asa after the
Vanity Fair article and asked her to test their blood for antibodies to
squalene before they were administered their mandatory anthrax shots.
Before the shots, they had no antibodies to the substance. Afterward,
One of them was Sgt. Serge Trullet of Ripley, Miss. A naturalized
citizen from Argentina, Trullet wouldn't disobey an order to take the
shot, but he wanted to take precautions, he told Matsumoto. When he
tested positive for the antibodies to squalene, then started getting a
rash and swelling, he didn't blame Uncle Sam. He blamed the unknown
people "somewhere along the line," who let it happen.
"I don't know what to think about my commanders," Matsumoto quotes him
saying. "I think that they're just ignorant -- you know, 'follow the
leader' types that absolutely question nothing that their superiors tell
them. I feel that some of them would have probably done the same things
that the Nazis did to the Jews with the excuse that they were just
following orders." Trullet did not respond to phone calls from The
Commercial Appeal Tuesday.
"This (squalene) has not been out in the public forum because the
Department of Defense has sort of blown it off and tried to portray
people who spoke about it as conspiracy nuts," Asa said in an interview
"Had they (soldiers) not been given this stuff, we would not be finding
antibodies to it in people who are sick with auto-immune diseases that
squalene has been chronicled to cause for decades."
It's complicated science, but Asa and Matsumoto maintain that the
squalene was used experimentally to boost the immune response to a very
weak vaccine prepared to ward off a bio-chemical attack of weaponized
anthrax spores known to have been developed by Saddam Hussein before the
first Gulf War.
Over the years, symptoms of Gulf War illness have been blamed on stress
or nerve gas exposure, flea collar insecticides and other factors, but
anthrax vaccine has usually been among them. More than $100 million has
been spent to find its cause.
James Turner, a Department of Defense spokesman specializing in health
matters, said Tuesday that he was familiar with Matsumoto's book but
called the concerns it raises "an old, old issue" being pushed by his
publisher. Turner directed specific questions about anthrax and squalene
to a department Web site. The site acknowledges that the Food and Drug
Administration found squalene in some vaccines for anthrax, but says the
amount was probably from fingerprint contamination by lab technicians
and too small to cause concern.
Before ending the call, Turner added: "The fact is that we do not put
squalene in our vaccines and never have. ... The notion that we're using
military people as guinea pigs without their knowledge is absurd."
Absurd or not, it is Matsumoto's most explosive claim, and it's backed
by Asa. He says in the book that FDA tests show that the amounts of
squalene found in different "lots" or batches of the vaccine
administered to some troops shows a pattern. That pattern establishes
someone was trying to determine the response to a progression of
different doses, he claims.
"This is an experiment," Asa said Tuesday. "This is a dose-range
Perhaps the strangest set of facts revealed in his exhaustive history of
anthrax's use as a potential weapon is Matsumoto's claim that the
vaccine administered to soldiers might protect against anthrax
encountered by contact, but would never work effectively against inhaled
anthrax spores such as the threat foreseen from Saddam.
Asa agrees, and so does a federal judge in Washington. U.S. Dist. Judge
Emmett Sullivan ruled Oct. 27 that the mandatory use of anthrax vaccine
on soldiers is illegal and must stop because authorities can't prove it
actually works against the inhaled anthrax expected to be used as a
weapon in wartime.
Since the mid-1980s, the FDA had never found the vaccine effective in
other than occupational settings, such as for protection of workers
exposed to infested animal hides. But in December 2003, after the
mandatory inoculations had been under way for five years, the FDA found
that the vaccine was effective for inhaled anthrax. Sullivan said the
agency failed to follow its own protocols in reaching that conclusion
and ruled the vaccine can be used only in the case of informed consent
or a presidential waiver.
Asked Tuesday why the Pentagon would want to vaccinate soldiers with a
shot that couldn't accomplish its purpose, Asa said she doesn't know.
But in her decades of research, she knows the Department of Health and
Human Services has been looking for an oil adjuvant to boost potential
anti-AIDS vaccines. She says agency researchers are trying to "make the
science fit their wish list."
Contact Washington correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan at (202) 408-2726.