Potentially Fatal Shot Comes From Syringe, Not a Rifle 08/28/05 By Helen Barrett
He had a choice.
Take the anthrax vaccine as ordered by his commanders or face Court Martial.
Despite reservations, E-4 Kent Stewart of the Oklahoma National Guard, HHB 45th, Field Artillery Brigade rolled up his sleeve and obeyed.
"I felt the shots weren't going to be doing any good," he said. "I didn't personally think there was that big a threat."
Stewart and the rest of his company received their activation orders February 14, 2003.
Five days later the first of a series of six vaccinations including the anthrax and smallpox vaccines started the unit's preparation for deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Stewart had heard rumors of adverse reactions to the vaccines resulting in a reluctance to take the shots.
To refuse would result in a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct dismissal his superiors told him.
Almost immediately after taking the first round of vaccines, Stewart began experiencing severe headaches.
On March 15 he received the second series of shots. The third series followed April 4.
Dizziness, tingling on the left side of his face, in his hands and legs, and attitude changes manifested themselves.
On May 27, ready to board the train for deployment from Ft. Sill in Lawton, the unit received notice their orders had been canceled.
Stewart received his fourth round of the vaccine on December 7, 2003.
Vomiting, weight loss, insomnia, and other symptoms started.
During the summer of 2004, Stewart suffered a pancreatic attack. Tests to determine his problem began. Each episode required treatment with antibiotics and other medications to ease the symptoms.
On Aug. 15, 2004, he received his fifth (and last) immunization.
His condition worsened until he was hospitalized Nov. 22, and placed on intravenous antibiotics for a week. Two days after his release the condition returned. His family physician referred him to Dr. Dilling, an ear-nose-throat specialist in Enid.
Realizing this was not a problem involving his speciality, Dr. Dilling referred Stewart to Dr. Rietz, a neurologist.
A battery of tests including a lumbar puncture, MRI, and extensive blood tests were performed. After obtaining the results, Reitz referred Stewart to Dr. Tarek Neguib, M.D. who specializes in immunology.
More tests followed.
In his official report dated March 28 of this year, Dr. Naguib listed his medical impression as:
1. Immunoglobulin A deficiency
2. Immunodeficiency due to #1
3. Multiple neurological manifestations with no structural disease on imaging and no infections etiology on work up. Suggestive of probable immunologic reaction to vaccination.
Dr. Naguib further stated, "The patient has a history of anthrax vaccination series 5 out of 6 doses among other vaccinations that preceded the evolution of symptoms in this previously healthy 37-year-old male. Makes vaccines a suspect etiology for this unusual presentation."
Stewart's records were sent to a physician at Vance Air Force Base who referred him to a hematologist.
To date government sources have not offered any solutions or assistance.
The family contacted a JAG officer. They were told the State of Oklahoma had approved help but the Surgeon General's office denied the request.
Unable to work because of his compromised immune system and continual illness, the Stewart family faces foreclosure on their home in addition to mounting medical costs.
MILITARY POLICY CHANGED
Stewart is not the first soldier to report illness after taking the anthrax vaccinations.
A recent story reported by Knight Ridder Newspapers' writer David Goldstein, 16 people died between 1990 and 2004, after taking the vaccine. Goldstein cited the government's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System as his information source.
Most suffered heart, lung and immune system problems as well as cancer.
All but five died within three months of their sixth vaccination. Nearly 4,500 other recipients reported having medical reactions with nearly 8 percent listed as "serious," meaning the problems were life-threatening, required hospitalization or resulted in a major disability.
A Maine internist and leading critic of the vaccine, Meryl Nass, says the military turned "a blind eye" to the risks.
"The people who become disabled more often than not have multiple diagnoses . . . their bodies are not doing what they're supposed to be doing," Nass said.
Beginning two months ago, the military policy changed from making the anthrax vaccinations mandatory to voluntary.
Since the policy changed, half the military and civilian Defense Department personnel asked to take the shots have declined.
Almost from the beginning the anthrax vaccine has been controversial.
The FDA licensed it in 1970 but only for anthrax exposure through the skin because the disease was largely confined to the livestock industry.
"They are still testing the serum to see if it works or doesn't work," Stewart says. "They tested it in the 70s and people still got anthrax."
FDA Warning Letters were sent to the manufacturer in 1995 and 1997 threatening to revoke their license. The Gulf War Vets website says an FDA report documented 84 quality control and procedure violations by the manufacturer.
"We talked to the main immunization place in Washington and they told Kent not to take the human immunoglobulin shots because it would probably kill him," Stewart's wife Lisa said.
Meanwhile, the Stewarts feel helpless.
"The military hasn't sent him to any of their specialists," Lisa said. "We feel like they've dropped the ball."
Stewart made the choice to serve his country.
He even knew that choice might involve making the ultimate sacrifice.
He just never expected the potentially fatal shot to come from a syringe instead of a rifle.