« Home | Bureau of National Affairs Army Researchers' Plan ... » | 3 Allege Reprisals Over Smallpox Shots » | Forced To Withdraw Drug Company Immunity From 2002... » | GAO: Shots Led to Military Attrition » | Anthrax: FDA Halts Use of Older Vaccine Doses » | Anthrax vaccine maker says future in doubt » | Anthrax Vaccine Manufacturer Battles Suit » | Army educates forces on anthrax vaccine » | FEDERAL OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE ANTHRAX VACCINE POLICY » | Man Says Anthrax Vaccine Harming His Health »

Marine who refused the vaccination could face prison time

By Jeanette Steele

CAMP PENDLETON – Cpl. Anthony Fusco has become the first San Diego County-based Marine to face court-martial for refusing the anthrax vaccination since the military resumed the controversial program last fall.

Fusco, a switchboard operator, said he believes the vaccine isn't safe, based on his Internet research.

"They haven't really done any studies on long-term side effects," Fusco, 22, said in an interview. "I believe it's your own body. It's your own right to put something in your body."

Fusco, a Santa Clarita native, was charged this month with disobeying a lawful order and probably will go to a special court-martial in February, he said. If convicted, his maximum sentence would be a year in military prison and a bad-conduct discharge.

Fusco is the only member of the 45,000-person 1st Marine Expeditionary Force charged with refusing since the vaccinations resumed, said 1st Lt. Dan Rawson, a Camp Pendleton spokesman.

For the military community, it is an old debate coming to the forefront again.

Fusco is accused of the same offense that at least 37 service members were convicted of when they refused inoculations in the late 1990s. The Pentagon largely suspended its anthrax vaccination program in 2001 because of low supply from troubled manufacturer BioPort Corp. of Michigan.

With a potential war against Iraq, the Marines in September began inoculating troops bound for the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

All members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station are expected to get the shot if they might deploy.

The anthrax bacterium can be deadly, especially when inhaled. Spores enter the lungs and migrate to lymph nodes, where they produce lethal toxins that destroy vital organs. Five Americans died in late 2001 when anthrax-laced letters circulated through the postal system.

Rawson said the Marine Corps has tried to educate troops about the safety of the vaccine – the same version given to service members in the late 1990s.

"Whenever a Marine thinks about refusing the anthrax vaccine, that refusal is thought to be a misunderstanding of the purpose and efficacy of the vaccination," he said.

"The Marine is given multiple opportunities to sit down one on one with a number of individuals in the chain of command and learn and have his questions answered. If that fails, charges can be brought."

Fusco said he fears the vaccine might cause autoimmune diseases and birth defects when he and his wife decide to have children.

He studied a Web site called www.majorbates.com, which is a collection of articles and documents about the vaccine. The site is run by retired Air Force reservist Lt. Col. John Richardson, who launched it in 2000 after fruitless attempts to get the military to change its mandatory vaccine policy.

Richardson disputes the military's claims of the vaccine's safety.

"Objective information makes me believe it's not safe," he said yesterday. "I've talked to victims."

Fusco, who joined the Marine Corps in 1999 during the height of the earlier courts-martial, said he had never heard of the controversy until he was offered the shot, if he wanted it, while stationed in Japan later that year. He declined.

In December, he was ordered to be inoculated when his 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit was scheduled for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf in June. He refused.

Fusco said he was removed from his unit and initially was offered nonjudicial punishment, which he intended to accept to avoid a negative discharge. With hopes of becoming a police officer, he worries that a bad-conduct discharge could hurt his chances.

Then his superiors told him the deal was off, Fusco said. Now he has been told he faces a special court-martial, the second-highest kind of military trial.

Fusco said he still hopes for a less-severe general discharge. But if he doesn't get it, he won't be sorry.

"Even if it's hard for me, I'll do my own business or something," Fusco said. "I'll make it.

"I still don't hate the Marine Corps. I just think what they are doing is very wrong."