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Vaccine role in gulf illness proposed for more study

By Deborah Funk
Times staff writer

Vaccines, particularly anthrax vaccine, should be further studied to determine if they contributed to illnesses suffered by tens of thousands of 1991 Persian Gulf War veterans, according to a panel that helps guide research for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses thus far has focused largely on toxins, such as nerve agents and pesticides, which can cause neurological damage. But other factors could play a role, including vaccines, it said in a report released Nov. 12.

Studies have shown higher rates of illnesses among veterans who reported getting vaccines, but determining links between anthrax and botulinum toxoid vaccines and illness in U.S. veterans is tough to do because the shots often were not recorded.
“A number of potential problems with the anthrax vaccine have been suggested, including problems with quality control during the manufacturing process, changes in the manufacturing process that may have resulted in increased levels of active antigen” and the use of unapproved additives to boost a person’s immune response, the report said.

;Among other things, the VA advisory committee report points to a study that found an “excess of symptoms” among people who said they received vaccinations to prepare for the 1991 Gulf War but never deployed.

The committee recommends the VA work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, which are conducting or overseeing studies of anthrax vaccine in an effort to track people for at least five years after they take it. They should look for symptoms similar to those suffered by Gulf War veterans, including memory and reasoning problems, the report said.

The VA also should study ailments and symptoms of veterans who received anthrax vaccine as part of the military’s mandatory program in recent years, and compare those to veterans who did not get the shots, according to the report.