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Middle East
Israeli military in anthrax row
Experts find "grave ethical failures" in 1990s' experimental anthrax tests on soldiers.
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2009 16:29 GMT
Several soldiers who received an experimental vaccine have suffered medical problems [Reuters]

Israeli defence officials have been accused of "grave ethical failures'" in testing an experimental anthrax vaccine on hundreds of Israeli soldiers.

Several of 716 soldiers who took part in the experiment in the late 1990s have reportedly developed tumours and suffered infections while others have complained of headaches, dizziness, skin, respiratory and
digestive problems that they say are related to the vaccine.

The panel of medical and legal experts said in a report obtained by the
Associated Press news agency that the soldiers were not properly informed of the possible risks.

Anthrax is a deadly bacterial disease and its spores can be used in germ warfare to infect victims.

The US has long required that its troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea be vaccinated against anthrax.

Tumours and infections

The Israeli military, or IDF, said on Friday the experiment was of "strategic importance to Israel's security''.

According to the IDF, only 11 soldiers sought help for side-effects and they all received appropriate treatment.

It is not clear how many soldiers are suffering from side-effects [AFP]

Volunteers were given "a detailed explanation about the vaccine, associated research and possible side effects'', the defence ministry said.

The vaccine programme had been ordered from 1998 to 2006 amid fears of an anthrax attack by Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, and because foreign-made vaccines were not available.

In its conclusions, the panel said it "was not convinced'' that decision-makers had properly evaluated the vaccine.

It also called into question the motives of some of the scientists involved in developing the vaccine because of their previous links to anthrax research.

"There was no medical supervision ... No one took care of the soldiers after the experiment"

Dorit Tahan, Israeli soldier

"We found no clear justification for the experiment,'' the panel wrote, calling the test "seriously flawed".

"The purpose of the experiment was to examine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for use among Israel's general population, but the experiment was conducted on young, healthy soldiers and it is not clear how its results could reflect on the population as a whole,'' it said.

"The possible risks and side-effects of the experiment weren't explored in depth'' and were concealed from the soldiers who took part, it concluded.

Soldiers were not monitored thoroughly during and after the experiment for any possible side effects, it said.

Side-effects

Dorit Tahan, 29, who volunteered for the experiment, said the report verifies what soldiers have long claimed.

"There was no medical supervision after the soldiers finished the shots. No one took care of the soldiers after the experiment,'' Tahan, who attributes her skin problems to the vaccine, said.

The Israeli military appointed the panel in 2007 after media reported on the
soldiers' complaints. 

It interviewed 83 soldiers and received testimony from 60 others who spoke to Physicians for Human Rights, the statement said.

It is not clear how many soldiers are suffering from side-effects.

Source:
Agencies
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