Originally created 10/17/01

Vet tells of tainted anthrax vaccine



Jenny Willingham-Enoch was vomiting, fainting and sleep-deprived. A member of the Air Force's security forces, she discovered the source of her malady - contaminated anthrax vaccine.

The vaccine she began taking two years ago was supposed to protect her from an infectious bacterial disease that can be used in biological or germ warfare. Instead, it caused her life to take a disastrous turn.

Willingham-Enoch, 23, of Cheyenne, Wyo., hopes her experience will deter people from supporting the anthrax vaccine.

"I don't want Americans supporting something they're uneducated about," she said. "If this ever becomes available to the public, I don't want people to become sick. I don't want them to push it on troops and make more of them sick."

In 1998, when she enlisted, the Pentagon ordered that all troops must take the anthrax vaccine. The vaccination calls for six injections over 18 months followed by annual boosters.

A Defense Department Web site says the vaccine is produced from a strain of anthrax that does not cause the disease.

About 30 percent of men and 60 percent of women experience mild reactions to the shots, such as swelling and tenderness around the injection area. Five to 35 percent of those vaccinated experience aching joints and muscles, headaches, fever and nausea.

These symptoms are supposed to go away after a few days. But for Willingham-Enoch, the effects have lasted years.

She began her series of anthrax shots in September 1999. Just after her third shot, while she was stationed in Kuwait, she started feeling sick.

"I wasn't able to get more than a couple hours of sleep," she said. "When I did, I slept like I was drugged. I wasn't able to hold anything down. I was constantly tired and really weak. I had a couple of episodes where I passed out."

Soon she wasn't able to perform her security forces job. Carrying 180 rounds of ammunition, an M-16 rifle and gear was wearing down her 100-pound body.

"I didn't know why," she said. "I do now. I have fibromyalgia."

The condition is characterized by chronic pain in the muscles and soft tissues surrounding joints. Physically unable to do her job, she found the Air Force wearying of her complaints. Earlier this year, she received a general discharge under honorable conditions - a step below an honorable discharge.

Despite her ailments, Willingham-Enoch did not receive disability from the military.

She says she has learned the contaminated vaccine was caused by higher than normal doses of an agent that quickly transports the vaccine into the body's system.

More than 400 troops have either quit or faced court-martial rather than take the vaccine for fear of side effects. The Defense Department, however, insists there are no long-term side effects from the vaccine.

The sole producer of the vaccine, BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Mich., is only supplying the inoculation to the Defense Department. BioPort failed FDA inspections in 1999 and 2000 because of contamination and lack of consistency in product standards.

The vaccine supply ran low and the military cut back vaccinations to include only troops going to high-threat areas such as the Middle East and South Korea.

In the meantime, Willingham-Enoch is still suffering.

She has trouble remembering her phone number, she said. Though her health is poor, she works as a monitor at a juvenile correctional facility in Cheyenne, Wyo., to help make ends meet. Her husband, Patrick Enoch, is also formerly of the Air Force.

Willingham-Enoch has suffered three miscarriages since she first took the vaccine. She fears she can't have children.

"While people are afraid of the anthrax virus and looking for a vaccine, it's not perfect and it's not even good at this point," she said. "I think the vaccine is the bigger danger to our country right now than the disease is. It's more horrible than anyone is letting on."