Friday, October 19, 2001

N.Ky. native refused to get vaccine

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Independence native who was one of the highest-ranking military officers to take an honorable discharge rather than take the six-shot anthrax vaccine remains at peace with his decision.

        As an anthrax scare grows, former Air Force Maj. Sonnie Bates is convinced that the vaccine causes more health problems than it's worth.

        “I have no regrets on my decision. I only regret that I was put in that situation,” said Mr. Bates, who has become a corporate pilot since ending a 14-year, highly decorated military career. “Never do I wake up, look in the mirror and think did I make the right choice. I know I did. I just wish it hadn't come to that.”

        The 1986 Northern Kentucky University graduate refused to take the vaccine two years ago because 5 percent of his Dover, Del.-based squadron developed serious health problems after being inoculated against the highly lethal bacterium.

        The anthrax vaccine was given to thousands of service members during the Persian Gulf War. The government feared Iraq would launch a biological attack. In 1997, the Pentagon ordered the vaccine for all military members.

        Mr. Bates' life has changed drastically since he took his controversial stance. He has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Defense, claiming the drug is experimental and can't be administered without a soldier's consent. The case is pending.

        He flies out of Philadelphia but he continues to live in Delaware with his wife, Roxane, formerly of Walton, and their three children — Dallas, 18, Candis, 15, and Seth, 9.

        Mr. Bates believes either terrorists or “internal wackos” are responsible for the anthrax scare that has touched Florida, New York, Nevada, Washington, D.C., and much of the nation.

        Last week in Covington, emergency squads rushed to the IRS building because a mail room worker saw a suspicious mist escape from a letter she opened. Preliminary tests found the substance not dangerous.

        “I don't walk around in fear but that's all relative,” Mr. Bates said. “It still comes back to the basics - that you cannot protect yourself from everything. We just have to stand strong as a country in a way that deters the terrorists.”

        Americans “get a threat and they want to be protected from the threat out there. (But) there are so many different chemicals out there that you cannot make yourself bulletproof. You just have to be very cautious.”

        The Associated Press Former Air Force Maj. Sonnie Bates was honorably discharged after refusing to get an anthrax vaccine.


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