Dozens Protest Anthrax Vaccine
DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Dozens of people demonstrated Saturday outside Dover Air Force Base, where a pilot who has refused to take a mandatory series of injections against anthrax faces a possible court-martial.
Maj. Sonnie Bates, 35, is believed to be the highest-ranking officer in the Air Force to face the possibility of a court-martial for refusing to take the vaccine.
The military has ordered all of its 2.4 million reserve and active-duty soldiers, sailors and airmen to be inoculated as a defense against biological warfare. Several have been prosecuted for refusing the shots, which the military says are safe.
Protesters carried signs which read: ``Free Major Bates″ and ``My husband will take a bullet for America but not the Anthrax vaccine.″
``The people who refuse this vaccine are being raped of the same civil rights they fight to protect,″ said Gloria Webb of Ellendale, south of Dover.
Louise Rempfer of Suffield, Conn., said her husband, once a National Guard Major and a pilot, resigned his commission rather than take a vaccine he feels is unsafe.
``I am here in support of my husband and to show support for Maj. Bates,″ she said.
The group of about 35 protesters, including Bates’ wife, Roxane, marched past the base’s north gate, which was closed as they passed.
``These people had a right to express themselves,″ said base spokesman Maj. Frank Smolinsky. ``Freedom of speech is one of the things the military fights to protect.″
Smolinsky said the policy of mandatory vaccinations would continue.
``We absolutely stand behind the vaccination procedure,″ he said.
After about 20 minutes, the protesters were asked to clear the gate by military police.
Bates has said he won’t take the injections because he believes the Department of Defense can’t guarantee he won’t become permanently disabled by sickness from the shots.
An investigating officer is to hold a hearing this week at the base to determine whether Bates should face a court-martial for disobeying an order.
Bates could face up to five years in a military prison, the loss of his rank, and the loss of the military pension he has worked to gather for the nearly 14 years he has served as a pilot.