Iraq war veterans blame vaccine for infant deaths
By Lesley Richardson in London and Jonathan Pearlman
March 3, 2004
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
British soldiers who served in Iraq and their partners have expressed fears for the health of their unborn babies after other parents blamed anthrax vaccinations for a cluster of infant deaths.
The death toll among babies born in a small hospital in the south of England has provoked calls for a public inquiry into the British Government's vaccination program and reignited claims by some members of the Australian Defence Forces that they should not have been forced to have the vaccinations during their voyage to Iraq.
Since the war last year, pregnancies at the 33 Field Hospital in Gosport, Hampshire, have ended in two miscarriages, three premature births, one stillbirth and a forced termination.
In each of the seven cases, at least one of the parents had received the anthrax vaccination.
Lance-Corporal Andy Saupe's son was born 10 weeks premature, with growth problems and limb defects. The 23-year-old army chef had two anthrax injections before he was sent to the Gulf. His wife, Alex, became pregnant weeks later but the foetus did not develop properly.
Kye Saupe lived for five weeks before his life-support machine was turned off.
Charles Plumridge, spokesman for the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association in Britain, said several worried parents-to-be had called him since the connection emerged.
"One woman was due in four weeks and she was very, very irate. They were all inoculated for Gulf War II with anthrax and all the other vaccines associated with the Gulf."
Forty-two Australian defence personnel were sent back from the Gulf last year after refusing to be vaccinated because they were concerned about the possible side-effects.
A former serviceman who was recalled from HMAS Kanimbla said yesterday that the reports of anthrax-related birth defects vindicated his decision to refuse to take the vaccine last year.
"I think the word needs to get out that the navy stuffed up," said Simon Bond, 23, who has since left the navy.
"I think this justifies what we did. The navy needs to wake up and not inject people with something that could be deadly."
The navy's head medical officer, Air Commodore Tony Austin, last week defended the vaccine program before a parliamentary committee but admitted the sailors had not been properly warned of side-effects.
Anthrax bacteria produce a toxin that is released into the bloodstream and starves the tissues of oxygen.
Reports have emerged that women serving in the first Gulf War were told by the army not to conceive during the first year after inoculation.
But one of Australia's leading experts on immunology, Professor John Dwyer, said there was no scientific evidence that anthrax vaccinations caused birth defects. "It's not even scientifically plausible," he said.
A British Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "The vaccine has been given to both civilian and military personnel for many years without any clinical evidence of long-term ill-effects as a result."
"Congenital disabilities are unfortunately common - affecting about one in 33 live births," she said.