Anthrax misinformation puts airmen at risk
Released: 17 Nov 1999
by Staff Sgt. Cynthia Miller
Air Force Print News
WASHINGTON -- Since the Department of Defense made vaccination mandatory, anthrax has become a hot topic of conversation.
Many service members -- active, Guard and Reserve -- may have jeopardized their military careers due to information gained from potentially unreliable sources. Pilots, lately the most visible challengers of the anthrax vaccination program, stand to risk the most.
Or do they?
"Much of our earning capacity as airline pilots occurs in the final years that we serve with the airline," said Brig. Gen. Myron Ashcraft, chief of staff, Ohio Air National Guard and a United Airlines pilot. "For that reason, it is imperative that we reach age 60, mandatory retirement age, still able to pass a physical examination every six months."
In recent testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., said, "25 of the 48 pilots at Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., have submitted resignations to be held in the event mandatory anthrax vaccination goes forward. Most of them happen to be airline pilots, very much concerned about their physical conditions following vaccination."
This statement speaks directly to a common rumor in the flying world that civilian airlines won't hire military pilots who have taken the anthrax vaccine.
"I have been a commercial airline pilot since 1978 and can assure you that anything that might jeopardize my career has my full attention," Ashcraft said.
But according to the general, the anthrax vaccination is a non-issue for commercial airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration's Aeromedical Certification Division.
Taking the anthrax shot has no effect on airline hiring and no effect on being granted a civilian medical certificate, according to Ashcraft.
"United (Airlines) does not even ask if you have had the shots," he said.
So where can a pilot or service member turn for factual, objective information on anthrax and the vaccination? One place is the Anthrax Tool Kit, sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Medical Service.
Although written for commanders to use when briefing members, the site provides information on medical deferrals, exemptions, frequently asked questions, religious waivers, and consumer information. The tool kit also offers a list of references and links to other objective, informative sites that address the history and dangers of anthrax, among other topics.
This site is currently restricted to ".mil" hits only, and must be accessed from a computer authorized for access to .mil sites. However, Air Force officials are working to release the site into the public domain.
Until then, the tool kit is available to military members at http://sgwww.satx.disa.mil/moasgop/restricted/ccaindex.cfm
Check Six Safe Shots: An Airman's Guide to Anthrax Vaccinationsfor more anthrax vaccination news