Confusion Causes Anthrax Flap
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 2, 1999 A misreading of a routine contracting procedure caused a spate of news stories June 29 that questioned whether DoD's anthrax vaccine is safe.
Army and DoD officials issued statements clarifying the contract provision and reassuring service members and their families that the vaccine is safe.
The news stories said Army Secretary Louis Caldera signed a document in September 1998 that agrees to shift product liability risks from vaccine maker BioPort Corp. to the government. In other words, potential litigants would sue the government, not BioPort.
"We do this in lieu of the company having to buy insurance," said Lt. Col. David Stockwell, Caldera's spokesman. The Army is the executive agent for the anthrax vaccination program.
In a written response to the news coverage, Caldera called the legal relief a "standard indemnification clause." He said it would "ensure a continuous supply of anthrax vaccine to America's soldiers without exposing BioPort to a level of product liability risk which might cause the company to cease production of this sole-source vaccine for fear of open-ended legal claims."
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said DoD does not expect lawsuits and likened indemnification to insurance. "We all buy insurance for things we don't anticipate will ever happen, such as fire insurance for houses or libel insurance for newspapers," he said during a June 29 press conference. "This was [BioPort] seeking a type of insurance, indemnification from suits, should they arise."
Bacon said everything about the Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine shows it is "incredibly safe." Evidence includes the results of supplemental DoD- ordered tests done by a private company, he noted.
"There have been 79 adverse reactions out of nearly 900,000 shots given so far," Bacon said. "This is a lower adverse reaction rate than in the [diphtheria, polio, tetanus] vaccine that all our children have received."
He called the newspaper article that initially caused the confusion a disservice to a program designed to protect American service members from a biological warfare threat with a 99 percent fatality rate.