Army reportedly claims right to forcibly vaccinate soldiers Officer defends sergeant who threatened to tie up soldier for anthrax shots

August 20, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

As the Pentagon expands its anthrax vaccination program this week, Army officials are saying they have the right to forcibly restrain and vaccinate soldiers who refuse the shots.

The Army's statements are in response to questions about the case of Pfc. Mathew R. Baker, a 20-year-old soldier who went absent without leave June 9.

Baker, who turned himself in Aug. 5, says he didn't want the vaccination because of concerns about its safety and effectiveness.

But, he said, 1st Sgt. Roger Paterson "told me to my face that if I refused the anthrax vaccine, he would strap me down or have me strapped down to a gurney, and inject me with the anthrax vaccine."

AWOL after first shot

Baker took the first of six shots, then went AWOL.

Army spokesmen are saying Paterson did nothing wrong.

"Army regulations allow soldiers to be given vaccinations as required for mission readiness," said Elaine Kanellis, an Army spokeswoman. "It's certainly possible that a soldier can be ordered to take a shot. If they refuse the order, they can face disciplinary action."

Kanellis, a civilian spokesman, repeatedly refused to say whether Army policy allowed or prohibited forcible vaccinations.

"The military folks I talked to never heard of such a case," she said.

But in the Aug. 17 edition of the Army Times, a private weekly newspaper for soldiers, Lt. Col. Guy Shields, an Army spokesman, was quoted as saying about Baker: "Yes, we could have used restrained force to administer the shot."

Army reviews policy

The same article quotes a spokesman at Fort Stewart, Ga., where Baker was stationed, as saying Paterson did threaten Baker with force if he refused the shot.

"The Army is currently developing a specific policy for dealing with the anthrax vaccine program," Kanellis said.

She could not explain why the service did not have a policy in place when the vaccinations began in March.

On Friday, Pentagon officials announced the vaccinations are being expanded to all 2.4 million men and women in the military and reserves beginning this week. The vaccinations will be given first to troops in South Korea and Southeast Asia.

The Army policy stands in contrast to the policies of the Navy and the Air Force. No reports of forcible vaccinations or threats to do so have surfaced in either service.

Those services have punished sailors and airmen for refusing the vaccinations, which began earlier this year for 48,000 service personnel in the Persian Gulf or who were en route there.

Discharged from Navy

But the Navy is preparing to discharge sailors who refused the shots earlier this year, according to e-mails from the sailors.

Six of the seven sailors who refused the shots on the USS Independence were removed from the ship last month when it reached Japan.

One of the sailors said they are cutting grass and painting, according to his e-mail message, while the Navy decides what kind of discharges they will get.

The seventh sailor, Nhut M. Nguyen, a 23-year-old Vietnamese immigrant from San Rafael, Calif., is on restricted duty in Bremerton, Wash., pending an other-than-honorable discharge.

Baker sent home

Baker turned himself in to Army officials at Fort Knox, Ky., on Aug. 5 and was sent home to his parents' house in Springfield, Ohio, two days later.

His mother, Kathe Baker, said Sunday that the Army has not decided what kind of discharge he will be offered.

"They put him on leave until he gets released," she said Sunday. "We're just trying now to get him a better discharge."

Pub Date: 8/20/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.