Group fighting mandatory anthrax vaccinations
WASHINGTON — It was about seven months after receiving her last dose of the anthrax vaccine that Kelli M. Donley realized she had a problem, she said.
Over time, her condition worsened: her walk deteriorated, and her speech became slurred, said Donley, then an Air Force captain and military attorney.
Eventually, doctors discovered that her cerebellum, which controls muscle movement, had shrunk, Donley said.
One possible explanation for her condition: the anthrax vaccine, she said.
Donley was one of about 24 people who attended a symposium Saturday at a Washington, D.C., law firm about the resumption of mandatory anthrax vaccinations for servicemembers and some contractors on the Korean peninsula and in countries under the responsibility of U.S. Central Command.
The attendees consisted of attorneys, medical experts and servicemembers who claim the anthrax vaccine sickened them, an organizer said.
Donley, now medically retired, said the Air Force ruled that her condition was service-related, but they did not say what caused it.
She said the onset of her symptoms coincided with her first anthrax shot and tests have shown she does not have a genetic predisposition for her problem, but she does not have proof directly linking her condition with the vaccine.
“But I’m a lawyer; I can argue circumstantial evidence,” Donley said. “I’ve had a litany of medical tests. It’s not diabetes. It’s not cancer. It’s not — Lyme disease didn’t cause it. I mean, I’ve been poked and prodded. I’ve had spinal taps. I’ve had genetic tests. Everything possible medically has been ruled out.
“What’s that leave? Anthrax shots.”
Donley said she received her first of three anthrax shots before going to Kunsan, South Korea.
She said she initially noticed that her right arm felt tingly, but that sensation went away after a month.
But in May 2001, Donley realized she had a problem during a trip to the Great Wall of China.
“I feared falling down the steps. They had a handrail and I [went] hand-over-hand my whole way down,” she said.
She said her problems continued but she figured she was just “clumsy.”
When she got back to the United States in 2003, an MRI revealed her problem, she said.
“As soon as I got that MRI result, it was like, it was satisfaction that I wasn’t making things up, but then it was like confirmation that something was wrong,” Donley said as her voice began to break.
Donley said she must now carry a doctor’s note with her because her symptoms make her appear drunk.
“I slur. I stagger. If you ask me to walk a toe-to-toe line, I can’t do it. I’m not passing a field sobriety test,” she said.
She said she recommends servicemembers who may be in similar circumstances to hire an attorney to represent them.
Also at Saturday’s symposium, attorney Mark Zaid said he represents about six servicemembers and contractors who have refused to be vaccinated for anthrax.
Zaid, based in Washington, D.C., said he is seeking to make the vaccination program voluntary again and reverse any disciplinary action taken against servicemembers who have refused to take the vaccine.
He said he plans to file a class action lawsuit challenging the mandatory anthrax vaccination program in the coming weeks.