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Pentagon insists vaccine deaths rare

/ Source: The Associated Press

Moses Lacy once accused the Pentagon of a vaccine cover-up. Now, seven months after his daughter’s death following five military-issued shots, Lacy hopes officials finally are taking his concerns about vaccine safety seriously.

The Pentagon on Wednesday said the vaccinations might have caused the death of Army nurse Rachael Lacy, who died in April after receiving shots for anthrax, smallpox, typhoid, hepatitis B and measles-mumps-rubella.

“It only goes to confirm what I’ve known all along,” Lacy said after the Pentagon’s announcement.

Lacy, 52, safety manager for the Metra commuter rail service in Chicago, said military officials initially insisted the vaccines had nothing to do with her daughter’s death.

The military’s new conclusion “doesn’t relieve my pain. It does not bring my daughter back,” he said.

Lacy said he doesn’t think the military’s vaccine program should be halted, but he hopes his daughter’s death will lead to procedural changes to help prevent other vaccine-related illnesses and deaths.

Some veterans groups critical of government handling of illness in people who served in the Gulf War and the Iraq conflict said they believe the smallpox or anthrax vaccines likely were the culprit in Rachael Lacy’s death — and that the Pentagon knew that all along.

Retired Army Ranger Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said the Pentagon’s announcement was “a pre-emptive strike.”

“They released what they knew was going to come out in the news anyway,” Robinson said.

He said in this case they’ve thrown out “a sacrificial lamb to admit to one” death.

Officials said Rachael Lacy’s death was extremely rare and would not alter the Pentagon’s vaccination program.

“Death due to vaccination is extraordinarily rare,” said Col. John Grabenstein of the Army surgeon general’s office. “The military has had one possible case in the last few years. That involved a yellow fever vaccine.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Defense released a “safety summary” of the military’s smallpox vaccination program. Two independent panels reviewed five “deaths due to disease after vaccination” and concluded that Lacy’s was the only death that might have been related to a vaccination.

But concerns in the medical community over the safety of the smallpox vaccine led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that civilians with health problems including severe acne, weakened immune systems and heart conditions should not be vaccinated.

Lacy was a 22-year-old reservist living with her parents in the Chicago suburb of Lynwood when she was called to active duty. She received the vaccines March 2 at Fort McCoy, Wis., in preparation, her father said, for being shipped to Kuwait.

She died a month later at a Minnesota hospital with symptoms like those found in patients with lupus, an autoimmune disease, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The two panels were convened at the Pentagon’s request under the Health and Human Services Department. One panel reported that it tended to think, but couldn’t prove, the vaccinations caused Lacy’s death. Three members on the second panel said it was “possible” the vaccinations were the cause and two said it was “probable.”

The panels found no evidence that the military screening program could have prevented the death, though officials will review the practice of giving simultaneous vaccinations, the Defense Department said.

The Pentagon said the panel found the vaccinations “may have triggered” a flare in lupus, which neither she nor her family knew she had.