At the risk of continuing to talk past each other, I’m responding to Dale Courtney’s Dec. 22 reply to my earlier column about his experiences with military mandated vaccinations. I think that our conclusions are not that different, but we obviously come from two very different perspectives.

As I have written before, I don’t support vaccine mandates just as I don’t support the state making women risk injury and death from unwanted pregnancies, much less forced parenthood. I think there are other mechanisms to convince people to make better choices without turning everything into a political churn. I’ve also written about the swine flu vaccine debacle of 1976. I’ve never claimed that vaccines are uniformly safe.

It is, of course, easy for me to write from the safety of my home that I don’t support vaccine mandates, but also don’t believe that people have the right to spread dangerous and preventable communicable diseases to innocent people. I’m obviously not a decision maker in these matters, but my family believes that personal responsibility is a sufficient mandate for vaccination, and I’m fortunate to have an extended family that uniformly agrees.

For the military, however, it is important to remember that there are many risks including exposure to toxins and carcinogens, and potential loss of life and limb. Anyone who volunteers for military service and suffers injury for such duty, whether it be from an ill-conceived vaccine rollout or post-traumatic stress syndrome, deserves care and compensation. Such a requirement is not only just, but it provides incentive for military planners to ensure that risks are minimized.

Judging by information provided by the National Academy of Sciences (search “NAP, Gulf war and Health”), the anthrax vaccine selected for use in military personnel is a cell-free precipitate. This means that anthrax culture is prepared and components from the culture broth are separated from everything else to produce a mixture of bacterial proteins. What you end up with is an undefined vaccine that has an unknown number of antigens. Such a preparation will inherently present some risks because there are proteins present that do little to induce protective immunity, but that could otherwise short circuit the immune response (e.g., auto-immune conditions such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome that Courtney mentioned).

I agree that such vaccines offer the potential for greater risks, but war planners likely have other things to consider. After the first Gulf War, investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Special Commission confirmed that Iraq had biological weapons. The inventory included at least 100 bombs loaded with botulinum toxin, 50 loaded with anthrax and seven charged with aflatoxin. There were 13 SCUD warheads containing these biologicals as well. Fortunately, none of these weapons was deployed.

But what if these weapons had been effectively deployed, and U.S. military personnel were severely injured and killed? What if several thousand service men and women died of anthrax inhalation? And what if this happened with the knowledge that a functional vaccine was available but not used? Would people be hollering about the military being too cheap to protect the troops? I’m sure FOX News would.

I repeat that I have no experience with military strategy and planning, but it seems that at some point troop readiness requires some decisions about relative risks. And 20/20 hindsight was not available when the first troops were sent to the Gulf, and there was plenty of concern for the second Gulf war as well. Add to this the anthrax scare of 2001 that sickened 17 people and killed five. In short, there is more context here than an inhuman willingness to experiment on troops as Courtney alleges.

My column was meant to convey the point that Courtney was making a false equivalency by connecting his military experience to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine rollout. The two mRNA vaccines used in the U.S. consist of the absolute barest of components needed to train your immune system. From a relative risk perspective, this is far preferable to what SARS-CoV-2 has to offer you. Getting vaccinated with current vaccines, even though less effective against the omicron variant, helps protect you, your family and your community from a dangerous communicable disease.

Call (he/him) is a microbiologist and father of three. He first discovered the Palouse 38 years ago.

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