Given our recent, brain-bending encounter with the yellow fever vaccine, we’ve had a sharper eye for tales of preventive treatments gone awry. As a result, we just had to share this troubling tale of a Missouri Marine and MILVAX:
It wasn’t a bullet or roadside bomb that felled Lance Cpl. Josef Lopez three years ago, after just nine days in Iraq.
It was an injection into his arm before his Marine Corps unit left the United States.
It left Lopez in a coma, paralyzed and unable for a time to breathe on his own. He can walk now, but with a limp. He has to wear a urine bag, has short-term memory loss and must swallow 15 pills daily to control leg spasms and other ailments.
Yet the Springfield, Mo., man does not qualify for a special GI benefit of up to $100,000 for troops who suffer traumatic injuries.
Lopez suffered a rare reaction to the smallpox vaccine. The vaccine is not mandatory, but the military strongly encourages troops to take it.
Even though his medical problems would not have occurred had he not been deployed, the benefit was denied.
Just how unlucky was Lopez? According to the CDC, the odds of a serious reaction are somewhere between 14 and 52 in one million. Strangely, though, paralysis is not listed as one of the most dire side effects; we wonder whether that paralysis stemmed from Lopez’s post-vaccination treatment, during which time he was placed in an induced coma.
As for Lopez’s woes with the military bureaucracy, we instinctively side with the little guy here. Though the Pentagon seems to have plausible deniability due to the voluntary nature of the smallpox vaccination, we think there’s an irresistibly coercive element to strongly recommending the treatment. Honestly, how many deployed troops turn down the smallpox vaccine? Especially since the Pentagon is so gung-ho about insisting on the vaccine’s safety.
By stiffing Lopez, won’t the military just make other troops more wary about consenting to the vaccination? Isn’t miserliness counterproductive here?