- LOS ANGELES (CBS)
Combat pilots in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard are quitting
rather than take Anthrax shots, CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports.
- The departure of veteran pilots, many with experience
in Kosovo and the Gulf War, is creating huge holes in some military air
units. CBS News spoke with over 100 pilots concerned about the vaccine.
- "We're leaving the service of our country over fear
of a shot," said retired Major Gary Blied of the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
"And it just doesn't seem fair."
- All military personnel are required to get the shots,
despite doubts the vaccinations will protect troops from the deadly Anthrax
virus in wartime. But it is fear of bad reactions to the vaccine itself
that is leading many pilots to end long careers.
- Randy Pzyk, a United Airlines pilot, quit flying for
the Wisconsin Air National Guard rather than take the Anthrax shot.
- "It was difficult," Pzyk recalled. "I
cleaned out my locker, stripped my name off my mailbox and packed up and
- Key units across the country stand to lose up to half
of their pilots. At five bases combined, more than 100 reserve pilots quit
this year. Major Ramona Savoie is one of them.
- "The squadron is unable to do its peacetime and
wartime mission," Savoie said. "And this directly impacts the
- Pentagon officials insist the vaccine is safe, pure and
effective -- and say the vaccination program is going smoothly.
- "Generally speaking, this is not a significant issue.
It has not had any effect on readiness at this juncture," said Charles
Cragin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.
- But military memos obtained by CBS News tell a different
story. One squadron commander writes, "Due to the controversy regarding
the shots, compliance has been very low." Another acknowledges, "We
are losing a lot of experience."
- Most experienced Guard and reserve pilots fly passenger
jets as their main job. Pilots like Mike Angerole of Southwest Airlines
are quitting the Air Guard rather than risk vaccine side effects that could
endanger their passengers.
- "Would you want your pilot to have any problem with
remembering, and tremors, seizures," Angerole said. "And this
is all stuff that's attributed to the vaccine."
- So far, Pentagon officials are refusing pilot requests
to make the shots voluntary. In a letter to the Army Times, Defense Secretary
William Cohen writes, "Just as soldiers must wear helmets, commanders
must know all their troops are vaccinated against anthrax."
- "I'm more than willing to lay my life down for my
nation. Is that not enough?" Angerole said.