Film tells painful stories of several military personnel who claim their health and careers were destroyed by the anthrax vaccinations.
By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times
Sometimes events coincide in weird ways.
Recently, among the clear-cut deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq, there occurred two mysterious non-combat fatalities. Seeking an explanation, many commentators blamed them on a reoccurrence of the Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), an unexplained malady that allegedly affected thousands of veterans of the first Gulf War.
On Friday, Aug. 15, The New Malibu Theater at Cross Creek Road will begin a weeklong special screening of “Direct Order,” an award-winning documentary narrated by Michael Douglas. Produced and directed by Malibu resident Scott Miller, the son of celebrated ski-film maker Warren Miller, the film argues that the original GWS cases were caused by the military’s inoculation of service personnel with an unproven anthrax vaccine. For him, as well as producer Tony Eldridge, who plans a feature film on the subject after finishing “The War Magician” (starring Tom Cruise), it’s not much of a reach to connect the recent deaths to the anthrax vaccination program, which President Clinton extended to all 2.5 million military personnel in 1999. More than one million shots have been administered since 1991, 300,000 in the last year alone, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Direct Order” tells the painful, sometimes tragic stories of several military personnel who claim their health and careers were destroyed by the anthrax shots. One of the most touching is that of Rhonda Wilson, a helicopter pilot, described by her commanding officer as “one of the most outstanding pilots of her generation.” In December 1998, she was ordered to take an injection without explanation; it was the first in the standard series of six anthrax vaccinations (given over an 18-month period). She became ill almost immediately; her second shot, a
year later, resulted in memory loss, fatigue and nausea. Following a
third vaccination, Wilson was hospitalized.
“I have lost my marriage, my career, my dreams, my future, my pleasures,” she said. “I would have died for my country. But I didn’t think I would die like this.”
Recent events are providing support for Miller’s thesis. There are reports of additional deaths and, two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times described another case. Troy Goodwin, a navy airplane mechanic with a spotless service record (including eight months in the Persian Gulf) was sentenced to 60 days in the brig for refusing to take an anthrax vaccination. He believed it would make him sick and prevent him and his wife from having a healthy baby. The Times added that John Richardson, a former F-16 pilot, policy analyst for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and opponent of the anthrax vaccinations, said: “The military well knows how many deaths and illnesses this experimental vaccine has caused, and yet they continue to insist otherwise. They can’t find weapons of mass destruction, and yet they are throwing people in jail who refuse to take a vaccine that they claim protects against weapons of mass destruction.”
The Pentagon claims the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine and that there have been no deaths. Nevertheless, the FDA’s own literature acknowledges the deaths of five vaccinated service people and in 1998 the secretary of the Army conceded the vaccine was “unusually hazardous.”
“You can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that a particular individual got a disease because of the vaccine,” Miller said. “They also got a flu shot, a smallpox vaccination and who knows what else at the same time. But in Rhonda’s case, she got three [anthrax shots] without anything else.”
According to Miller, who has spent five years researching the issue, the vaccinations may be useless anyway. There are three forms of anthrax, the cutaneous (rarely fatal, usually contracted through a cut), intestinal (more dangerous, contracted from eating infected meat) and the usually fatal inhalation anthrax, contracted through breathing in anthrax spores.
“The military vaccine only protects against the cutaneous kind,” Miller said. “The anthrax that has been weaponized is an inhalation synthetic that was secretly developed in the U.S. and Russia over a 20-year period.”
There are other problems according to Miller. “The vaccine is made by one company, BioPort, owned in part by the retired Joint Chiefs chairman and former ambassador, Admiral William Crowe. And, it’s an experimental vaccine. The government claims it works, but to my knowledge it’s never been tested. I think the government’s intentions were originally honorable, but now they’ve got themselves in a pickle. Its like Agent Orange … there are a lot of liability issues.”
After the first Gulf War, the program was suspended for several years before President Clinton ordered its expansion. Not until January 2003, however, did the lab, which had been shut down by the FDA for 30 manufacturing infractions, reopen. “I was told that, at one time, it took seven years to manufacture 40,000 doses,” Miller added, “so it may be that some of the vaccine being used now is leftover, well past its two-year shelf life.”
So what’s the answer?
Clearly, greater public awareness is one, which Miller hopes his documentary will broaden. And, he added, “I, like many who believe there is something wrong with the stuff, would like to see the President order a stand-down of the vaccination program until it is fully investigated.”
David Lyons, operator of the New Malibu Theater adds, “I personally believe in the film and think the message needs to get out there. It’s exceptional filmmaking.”
The 57-minute documentary will play daily at 2 p.m. through August 21. Admission is $5. More information can be obtained by calling 456.6990.