- WASHINGTON - The U.S. Navy said Friday it had punished 23 sailors bound
for the Gulf who refused compulsory anthrax shots the Defense Department
said will protect them against the deadly biological agent.
- The group is the largest to refuse the
vaccine, which Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered for all members
of the military over a year ago.
- Those who refuse the vaccine believe
it has not been thoroughly tested and could damage their health.
- Lt. Cmdr. Mark McDonald, a spokesman
for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, told Reuters the 23 sailors from the USS Theodore
Roosevelt aircraft carrier were demoted by one rank, given 45 days extra
duty, restricted to the vessel for 45 days and ordered to pay fines equal
to one month's pay.
- The USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is
based in Norfolk, Va., is due to leave on March 26 for a six-month tour
that includes time in the Gulf, a potential anthrax zone.
- "If you are going into an area where
you face a potential anthrax biological weapon, then you want to be as
well-protected as possible. These men are going to the Gulf and this is
one of the reasons they had to have it," said McDonald.
- He said aside from the 23 sailors, all
5,300 people on board the vessel were inoculated against anthrax, an infectious
disease which usually affects livestock but can be spread to humans.
- The punishment was less severe than one
meted out by the Air Force in California Wednesday when it discharged Airman
First Class Jeffrey Bettendorf for refusing the vaccine. In January nine
Air Guard pilots from a Connecticut A-10 squadron left the service rather
than get the injection.
- Refusing to have the shot amounts to
refusing to follow an order which can result in discharge from the force.
McDonald said the Navy felt its actions against the sailors, who went on
trial while on a training exercise off the coast of North Carolina, was
an appropriate level of punishment.
- Pentagon officials estimate about 100
servicemen and women of the 218,000 who have had the first of six prescribed
anthrax shots have resisted having the injections.
- Pentagon spokesman Capt. Mike Doubleday
told reporters Thursday the vaccine had been used since the 1970s and was
- "There are individuals who are still
employed by the services, particularly the Army, who have actually been
receiving this vaccine for 25 years without any ill effects," he said.
- "Our belief is that service people
who have any doubts about this should talk to their chain of command, the
senior NCOs, chief petty officers to learn more about it," he said,
adding that Cohen and other top officials had been vaccinated.
- The sole aim of the injection, he said,
was to protect military staff who may at some future time be put into a
situation where anthrax was a threat.