The Department of Defense (DOD) is repeating its failed policy of mandating a vaccine that a federal court later found to be unlawful, the nonprofit religious liberty legal aid foundation, Liberty Counsel, argues.
Several years after the DOD launched its anthrax vaccine program in 1998, forcing military service members to be inoculated or discharged, a lawsuit was filed and a federal judge ruled it was illegal, forcing the DOD to end the program. Similarly, as a result of multiple lawsuits filed over the DOD’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and military branches denying Religious Accommodation Requests, courts are continuing to rule against the DOD, although its mandate has yet to end.
The DOD maintains its COVID-19 vaccine mandate is necessary for military readiness. It also argues U.S. district court judges don’t have jurisdiction to oversee its policies. Yet in all cases filed over the mandate in several jurisdictions, federal judges have ruled otherwise. Likewise, a DOD Inspector General report found that in all military branches officials violated federal law by issuing widespread denials of religious accommodation requests (RARs).
In Liberty Counsel’s case, Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden, no RARs were granted out of 21,342 filed, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday found. For this and other reasons, he both chastised military leaders and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The case goes to trial in January.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said the DOD “continues to abuse our military service members with these unlawful shot mandates. Service members are continually threatened with discharge, loss of pay and benefits, and repayment of educational and training costs. They also suffer physical adverse effects as a result.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August 2021 requiring all active duty military, reservists, civilian personnel and contractors to take the COVID-19 vaccine, which still is only available through Emergency Use Authorization, or face dishonorable discharge and other consequences. By last October, Liberty Counsel sued.
Merryday granted Liberty Counsel’s request for permanent injunctions on behalf of several service members and granted class action relief and a class wide preliminary injunction for all U.S. Marines.
Decades earlier, the DOD’s anthrax vaccine mandate was also unlawful, Liberty Counsel argues. Only after a lawsuit was filed and a judge ruled it was illegal did the DOD end it.
The DOD launched the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program in 1998 requiring everyone in the U.S. military to get the vaccine or be discharged. From March 1, 1998, to Jan. 14, 2007, approximately six million doses of the anthrax vaccine were administered.
The FDA first authorized the original vaccine in 1970 specifically for agricultural workers exposed to the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The bacteria kills warm-blooded animals in agricultural and rural regions and is contagious and infectious through skin contact.
In 2003, a lawsuit, Doe v. Rumssfeld, was filed in which plaintiffs argued the Anthrax vaccine was an experimental drug unlicensed for the use it was being given. They also argued it violated federal law, a presidential executive order, and the DOD’s own regulations and asked the court to enjoin the DOD from inoculating them without informed consent.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted their request and ruled the FDA failed to follow proper procedures when it authorized the drug’s use. He also said the DOD’s “involuntary anthrax vaccination program [was] illegal,” the Alliance for Human Research Protection reported at the time.
Sullivan also issued a blistering rebuke, saying, “Congress has prohibited the administration of investigational drugs to service members without their consent. This Court will not permit the government to circumvent this requirement. The men and women of our armed forces deserve the assurance that the vaccines our government compels them to take into their bodies have been tested by the greatest scrutiny of all—public scrutiny. This is the process the FDA in its expert judgment has outlined, and this is the course this Court shall compel FDA to follow.”
As a result, the DOD suspended the program but for many it was too late. The mandatory shots caused adverse reactions in 85 percent of troops and resulted in many Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard members transferring to other units or leaving the military altogether between 1998 and 2000, a General Accounting Office report found.
The adverse reaction rate was far higher than the 30 percent claimed by the manufacturer, the GAO found, and 16 percent of those surveyed said they’d left the military or changed their status, in part, because of the DOD vaccine mandate.
The anthrax vaccine mandate “appears to have adversely affected the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve in terms of retaining needed experienced personnel,” the GAO found.
It also found that 77 percent of its survey respondents said they would have declined getting the shots “if they had had a choice.”
“According to our survey, between September 1998 and September 2000, when AVIP was mandatory, about 16 percent of the guard and reserve pilots and aircrew members had transferred to another unit (primarily to non-flying positions), moved to inactive status, or left the military altogether,” the GAO report states; “18 percent of those still participating in units indicated their intention to transfer, move, or leave in the near future. About one-fifth of those who had already left did so knowingly before qualifying for military retirement.”
While only 4,753 reports were made to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System from 1990–2007 detailing adverse effects from the anthrax vaccine, the GAO report found that most didn’t report their reactions through the military chain of command because they were worried about “loss of flight status, a possibly adverse effect on military or civilian career, and a fear of ridicule.”
Two CDC studies published in 2002 also indicated that anthrax vaccination was associated with Gulf War illnesses.
By Bethany Blankley