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Israel to pay $6 million compensation to anthrax vaccine trial subjects

Published time: January 13, 2014 17:19
Israeli soldiers guard near the Rosh Hanikra border crossing with Lebanon, in northern Israel.(Reuters / Amir Cohen)

Israeli soldiers guard near the Rosh Hanikra border crossing with Lebanon, in northern Israel.(Reuters / Amir Cohen)

​The Israeli government will pay out thousands of dollars in compensation to 716 soldiers who took part in an anthrax vaccine trial that ended in 2005. 92 of the servicemen sued the state, saying they were forced into the study and suffered side effects.

“After seven years of long, difficult struggle, we won. We set out to combat the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) moral image as a Jewish army; we were not seeking reparations,” said a statement from the Victims of Anthrax Experimentation committee.

“What we fought for is an IDF that does not experiment on human beings, its soldiers, as if they are lower than lab animals, and then evades responsibility for the consequences. We’ve returned honor to the IDF command, but it’s a shame we had to do so through the courts.”

The Omer-2 trial, estimated to have cost 200 million dollars, ran between 1999 and 2005, and was funded largely by US forces, which reportedly struggled to obtain permission to conduct similar studies at home. 716 purported volunteers from the Israeli Defense Force were administered an existing American, or a modified Israeli vaccine against the deadly anthrax bacterium, which the authorities believed could be unleashed in a terrorist attack.

92 of the participants later complained that they were pressured into joining the experiment, and not adequately informed about the potential risks by doctors, who merely assured them that they would not go on to develop the disease. The impropriety of the recruitment methods was confirmed by an official investigation in 2008.

The soldiers say they have been afflicted with Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, thyroid inflammation, pneumonia, allergic dermatitis and kidney failure as a result of the injections.

Anthrax vaccine.(Reuters / Randy Davey)

Under the settlement – validated by a civilian court – the government will pay the 92 plaintiffs 36,000 shekels (10,000 dollars) and the rest of the participants 27,000 shekels (7,500 dollars).

The government has not, however, accepted legal responsibility for the subjects’ health problems, though the final statement admits that there are “undeniable correlations” between the experiment and the health problems suffered by the soldiers.

It also says it acted in good faith. A government statement said that administering scientists “did not expect any dangerous side effects,” and that “the vaccine used in the research contains materials that exist in many vaccines given to babies on a regular basis, such as for tetanus and hepatitis.”

Authorities have defended the experiment on the whole, which has resulted in the introduction of an indigenous vaccine against the bacterium, which attacks the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and skin of an infected patient and has strains that result in a 75 percent death rate.

“A decade and a half ago, the defense establishment discerned that Israel faced a grave threat in the form of anthrax. Israeli development of an inoculation against this threat was, and still is, a source of national pride, and an example of Israel’s ability to deal with threats,” said attorney, Baruch Brizel, who represented the Defense Ministry during hearings at the Petah Tikva district court.

The last confirmed anthrax attack was in the US in 2001, when five people died after becoming infected with spores sent through the mail. The chief suspect was Bruce Edwards Ivins, a vaccinologist, who took his own life in 2009 before official charges were pressed.

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