November 19, 2003
U.S. Soldier's Death Is Tied To Vaccines
By David Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer
A 22-year-old female soldier who died last spring after getting multiple
vaccines, including the one against smallpox, succumbed to an immune system
disease apparently triggered by the immunizations.
That is the conclusion of a panel of experts reviewing the military's
experience with smallpox vaccine, which has been given to about 515,000
troops in the past year. A second panel believes that vaccination
"possibly" caused the young woman's death.
The woman received smallpox, typhoid, anthrax, hepatitis B and
measles-mumps-rubella vaccine on March 2. On April 4, she died of lung
complications caused by an acute attack of the autoimmune disease lupus.
She had never shown symptoms, but analysis of two blood samples stored in
the military's 30-million-sample repository showed that she had
abnormalities associated with lupus as far back as 1998.
The vaccinations apparently triggered a first "flare" of lupus, which an
Army official, Col. John D. Grabenstein, said has been observed a few times
in civilians. Neither panel cited a specific vaccine as the cause.
A panel of scientists from the government's Advisory Committee on
Immunization Practices and Armed Forces Epidemiology Board said the
evidence "strongly favors" the theory that vaccination led to the death. A
committee convened by the Health Resources and Services Administration
split on the issue, with three members saying it was "possible" and two
that it was "probable."
William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health
affairs, said there are no plans to change the vaccination program.
A study published last summer reported 18 nonfatal cases of myocarditis, or
inflammation of the heart muscle, among troops getting smallpox vaccine.