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Judge Nixes Anonymity for Anthrax Vaccine Plaintiffs

Judge Nixes Anonymity for Anthrax Vaccine Plaintiffs

U.S. Defense Department employees disputing the safety of the Pentagon’s anthrax vaccine cannot proceed anonymously with a lawsuit, a federal judge declared last week (see GSN, Dec. 13, 2006).

“Fairness dictates that plaintiffs’ identities be revealed,” wrote U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in an opinion.

A 2004 lawsuit, dubbed “Anthrax I,” challenged the Pentagon’s program of mandatory anthrax vaccinations for select personnel, Inside the Pentagon reported yesterday. The six plaintiffs in that dispute remained anonymous while their case proceeded. The Pentagon made the vaccinations voluntary for a time, but last fall announced it would again order mandatory shots for personnel serving in Afghanistan, Iran and South Korea (see GSN, Oct. 17, 2006).

The employees filed the “Anthrax II” lawsuit last year, disputing the Food and Drug Administration’s ruling that the vaccine now in use could be safely used to safeguard against inhaled anthrax.

The plaintiffs “fear retribution if they are named,” Collyer stated in her decision.

“They fear they will be labeled unpatriotic, denied advancement, assigned to less desirable duty, subjected to discipline, or dishonorably discharged,” she added.

The judge countered that “the presumption of openness outweighs the interests presented by the plaintiffs.” She called their fears of retribution “vague and unsubstantiated,” according to Inside the Pentagon.

The Pentagon employees have until July 27 to tell the court “whether they will drop out of the suit, reveal their identities, seek a certification for appeal, and/or file an amended complaint,” Collyer wrote.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs are expected to alter the suit to include the names of willing litigants (Elaine Grossman, Inside the Pentagon, July 5).