July 23, 2004

Air Force veteran claims smallpox vaccine made him sick

By: Jim Lokay, News 10 Now Web Staff

Central New Yorkers have played a big part in America's war on terror. From Fort Drum to Hancock Air Field and everywhere in between, it's more than a duty, it's an honor.

"Since 2001 when the Twin Towers were hit, I've been doing everything I can at the 174th," said Marshall Riopelle.

It's meant to protect America's armed forces from a bioterrorist attack but for a Rome veteran, the smallpox vaccine has been nothing but a medical nightmare.

Marshall Riopelle is one of them. The 22-year Air Force veteran was eager to head to the Middle East for Operation Iraqi Freedom. But when he headed out last September his tour of duty ended in unexpected agony.

"Ended up receiving a smallpox vaccination about seven days after I got there, probably about the 12th of September, and ended up developing a cardio-myopathy," Riopelle said.

The vaccine is part of a battery of shots servicemen and women are receiving to ward off a chemical or bioterrorist attack.

While each shot has its own effect, the military says side effects from the smallpox vaccine are generally minor. Symptoms may include: itching, swollen Lymph Nodes, body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some first time vaccinees had chest pain due to myo-pericarditis. A few heart attacks, some fatal, have been reported. At this time, they are not believed to be caused by the vaccine.

The concerns weren't lost on Riopelle. A man who went into the Air Force with a clean bill of health, aside from a minor heart defect known as mitral valve prolapse, or a sticky valve, he was concerned.

"I felt that was good enough reason not to get it, but I was told that I was okay, it was okay to get it," said Riopelle.

But a tightening sensation in his chest turned into two months in military hospitals.

"I went to the clinic just for that figuring I had a stomach virus or something, and it turned out to be congestive heart failure," said Riopelle.

That alone led some doctors to rule him 100% disabled because it keeps him from doing anything labor-intensive basically, from working.

But a military medical board said he was only 10% disabled, and offered him a $44,000 pre-tax severance package.

"A lump sum, and that's it, take my money and go," said Riopelle.

Marshall shares a second-floor apartment here with his 14-year-old daughter Meagan. If you ask him why he's pushing this issue so far, he'll give you one reason, her.

"I want to see my daughter taken care of, and you're not going to take care of a child on a $44,000 settlement," said Riopelle.

The good news is the 174th has been extremely helpful in getting his medication and pushing him in the right direction. Its other parts of the military bureaucracy that he's having a problem getting help from.

"An answer, an end to the story anyways."

For now, he’s keeping his fingers crossed, hoping one will come soon.

The military isn't commenting on Riopelle's case, nor any other complaints about the smallpox vaccine.

However, officials are standing behind their vaccination program.

Acambis upbeat on smallpox contract

By Rosie Murray-West
City Correspondent

Gordon Cameron, the chief executive of Acambis, is upbeat about the company's chances of winning a third contract to supply the US government with smallpox vaccine, despite increased competition from rival Bavarian Nordic.

"There is a lot of noise being created by our competitor and we have to deal with that," he said yesterday. "Our efforts are genuinely concentrated on keeping the customer informed and happy."

He said that he didn't see why Acambis wouldn't win at least half of the estimated $900m contract to supply the vaccine, which is weaker than the usual one and is suitable for vulnerable people such as the elderly.

Acambis has been transformed by two contracts to supply 209m doses of smallpox vaccine to the US and had been tipped by many to win the whole of the new contract.

However, Bavarian Nordic teamed up with Glaxo Smithkline this month, meaning that its chances of winning looked a lot stronger.

Acambis received a setback this year after the Food & Drug Administration in the US placed clinical trials of its main smallpox vaccine on hold after three suspected cases of heart inflammation. These occurred both in the Acambis vaccine and the rival medication with which it was being compared.

Some governments have taken the vaccine on an experimental basis without approval, while others were waiting to see what happened to the trials, Mr Cameron said. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Smallpox vaccine is notoriously volatile because it is a live vaccine and still made in much the same way as it was in the 19th century. Acambis shares fell 16 to 319p.

July 16, 2004

MoD gags Gulf war research

James Meikle, health correspondent
The Guardian, UK News

Scientists paid to research illnesses in veterans of the first Gulf war have been asked by the Ministry of Defence not to reveal ongoing findings to the unofficial independent inquiry into the health of former troops.

Other advisers, including retired officers, as well as those monitoring the health of troops involved in last year's invasion of Iraq, have also been asked to "observe the confidentiality" of pre-publication findings.

The MoD says presenting such work before it has been reviewed by other scientists might put the credibility of the research at risk.

Last night the ministry said a letter sent to researchers on Wednesday represented a request not a warning, but Shaun Rusling, the vice-chairman of the Gulf War Veterans and Families Association, called the move "despicable". He accused the government of trying to manipulate the way research was presented.

The letter came as the inquiry, headed by Lord Lloyd, the former law lord, revealed that Sir Peter de la Billiere, the British commander in the first Gulf war, would give evidence next week, as will Lord Bramall, a head of the defence staff during the 1980s.

Simon Wessley, a professor at King's College London and one of the scientists advised not to reveal unpublished work, will also attend. However, no serving ministers, officials or members of the armed forces are to attend the hearings. The MoD says it will provide "appropriate documents".

In the letter to more than 40 scientists and advisers, Malcolm Lingwood, the director of the MoD's veterans policy unit, said the only way to establish causes of ill-health in veterans was through its own funded research programme.

"It would be inappropriate for the ministry to try to influence your own approach to the investigation. However [...] I am sure you understand we would not want to jeopardise the scientific credibility of work still in hand by presenting material before it's been given proper peer review."