Former U.S. Army Captain Pamela Thornton first learned that she was a victim of Gulf War Syndrome in December, 1993, when in a moment of disorientation, she crashed into a wall in Ann Arbor and broke a toe. In the months and years that followed, Thornton was plagued with a foot that wouldn‘t heal along with severe fatigue, swelling, cramping, and constant pain that feels like a pinched nerve radiating through her arms and legs.
Eventually, this healthy, ultra-fit woman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a byproduct of Gulf War Syndrome, which ended her promising career in the Army.
Now retired on medical leave and living in the Village of Cedar in northern Michigan, Thornton, 45, may be one of thousands of victims of a compound called squalene, which was allegedly used to enhance an anthrax vaccine given to 150,000 U.S. military personnel during the Gulf War.
Studies by immunologists have linked squalene to Gulf War Syndrome -- a mysterious disorder which causes memory loss, joint pain, thyroid problems, allerigies, rashes, fatigue and chronic pain. The syndrome gives rise to arthritis, lupus, Parkinson‘s, multiple sclerosis and rare cancers, among others. The Department of Veterans Affairs claims that Gulf War Syndrome has affected tens of thousands of soldiers. An unknown number of veterans have died from disorders related to the syndrome.
Compared to the alleged deaths from Gulf War Syndrome, only 148 Americans were killed in action during the war itself, with an additional 467 wounded. If the research on squalene is true, then a major cause of American casualties during the Gulf War was a literal enemy from within.
For years the Department of Defense (DoD) adamantly denied the presence of squalene in anthrax vaccine. Only in October, 2000, did the DoD admit that “trace amounts“ of squalene had been found in its vaccines after the Food and Drug Adminstration discovered the substance during an investigation which used more sensitive tests than the Pentagon. The DoD claims it doesn‘t know how the substance was added in the first place, and that the use of squalene was never authorized.
“Even after all of this research came out on the danger of this experimental vaccine, the Army basically ignored it,“ Thornton says.
Critics of the military say the denials fly in the face of claims that the DoD has conducted squalene tests in Thailand since 1994 in the hope of developing an HIV vaccine. Squalene has been tested as far back as 1988 as a treatment for malaria, herpes and AIDS at the NIH Infectious Diseases and Allergy Center and at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, according to an investigation by the federal General Accounting Office.
The military‘s belated admission comes along with the discovery that the vaccination records for 10,000-20,000 veterans have disappeared in the years since the war, including Thornton‘s.
Thornton says the admission that squalene is present in the vaccine raises questions about the safety of the troops currently massing for a possible war with Iraq in the Persian Gulf. The military‘s latest anthrax vaccination program began in March, 1998, and it is unknown as to whether squalene exists in the new vaccines.
Thornton became aware of the link between squalene and Gulf War Syndrome after learning about research by immunologists, Drs. Pamela Asa, Yan Cao, and Robert F. Garry at Tulane School of Medicine‘s Department of Microbiology and Immunology in New Orleans.
In a blind study conducted at Tulane in 1999, the researchers took blood from 144 Gulf War veterans and found that 95 percent of those who were overtly ill from Gulf War Syndrome had high levels of anti-squalene antibodies. Even troops who never made it overseas had the antibodies in their system -- the only common link being that all had been vaccinated with an experimental anthrax vaccine.
“According to Tulane, antibodies to squalene indeed do appear in the bloodstreams of the sick veterans -- in fact, the sicker the veteran, the higher the level of such antibodies,“ states writer Paul M. Rodriguez, who has reported extensively on the subject for the Washington Times‘ Insight magazine.
“What struck me about Dr. Asa‘s research was that it showed that one hundred percent of non-deployed veterans had high amounts of squalene antibodies,“ Thornton says. “It finally made sense as to why I had Gulf War Syndrome -- the squalene couldn‘t have come from oral or topical sources -- it had to come from our vaccinations.“
Thornton‘s experience reads like a medical detective mystery, especially since at one time she was the only person in the U.S. Army interviewing sick veterans about the possible link to vaccines.
At one point, her case of MS was so bad she couldn‘t even walk. Today, she still suffers from parastheias -- a pain similar to banging your ‘funny bone‘ -- which radiates through her arms and legs. Weakness, swelling and cramping are still problems for her.
To understand how she got in this condition, you have to go back through her army career.
Thornton‘s family moved to Traverse City, Michigan in 1979. While a high school student here, she ran the two-mile race event in track, finishing third or fourth in the region. With an undergraduate degree under her belt and an interest in social work, she had a promising career in the Army when she enlisted in December, 1987.
When Operation Desert Storm brewed up in 1990, Thornton was vaccinated for anthrax at Fort Hood, Texas. She was supposed to go to the Gulf as part of a mental health team attached to the 2nd Armored Division, made up of tanks and armored vehicles. Her vaccinations included those for anthrax, hepatitis B, typhoid and yellow fever.
“At the last second, a decision was made not to send part of the 2nd Armored Division overseas, so I ended up staying home,“ she recalls.
VETERANS & VACCINE
Anthrax vaccine is manufactured at a company called Bioport in Lansing, Michigan. Thornton notes that if squalene was added during the manufacturing process, it was done so illegally from the perspective of the FDA.
Squalene has been studied by the DoD and the National Institutes of Health since the 1980s for its ability to boost vaccines, according to Micheal Devitt of ChiroWeb.com. It has never been approved by the FDA, however, because animal studies have shown that squalene additives produce unpleasant side effects such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis in animals.
Through the years, suspicion over anthrax vaccines percolated among veterans groups and immunologists alike as culprits such as the oil fires of Kuwait and chemical weapons contamination were dismissed as the source of Gulf War Syndrome. In the 11 years since the war, some 442 servicemen have resigned from the military or have been disciplined for refusing to take the vaccine.
A CONGRESSMAN‘S QUEST
Immunologists started raising the alarm about squalene as far back as 1995. The research prompted Rep. Jack Metcalf, a Republican from Washington State, to demand an investigation by the federal General Accounting Office (GAO).
Since that time, the GAO has issued a scathing investigation of the military that is backed by the peer-reviewed research at Tulane. The first GAO report, issued March 29, 1999, recommended that the Defense Department begin the immediate study of squalene antibodies in the blood of Gulf War veterans.
“Time is critical for many gulf-war-era veterans who continue to suffer from illnesses and have been waiting for the past seven years for an explanation about the nature of their illnesses,“ the report stated.
But despite the alleged hazards and the concerns of a lone congressman, the vaccinations continued.
“The vaccinations are still going on big-time,“ Thornton says. Even after the 1995 findings and the GAO telling the Defense Department that it should suspend vaccinations, the military still requires them.“
FROM BAD TO WORSE
“I started having problems in 1991, but really got sick in ‘94 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,“ Thornton says.
After Desert Storm, she left the Army to attend the Masters in Social Work program at the University of Michigan, intending to re-enlist as a social work officer. While at school, she began suffering mood swings, pain in her arms, and gastro-intestinal problems.
She also suffered from extreme lethargy, similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It was a switch for Thornton, who was always in top shape.
“I went into the military at 30 years old, and when I was in basic training, I was out-running and out-training 18-year-olds,“ she says. “But by the time I was 34, my legs felt like they weighed 100 pounds each.“
Soon, Thornton had a hard time just getting around.
“I used to walk everywhere on campus, but I began to notice more and more fatigue. By the time I got home, I couldn‘t believe how tired I was. I tried to ride my bike and it was almost impossible. I tried to play tennis with my roommate and I just couldn‘t do it -- my visual judgement was off and I was exhausted. I got so mad one day, I just flung my racquet -- my mood was really off too.“
Then, about the time Thornton graduated from U-M, she broke her toe. Its failure to heal was another sign that her body was falling apart.
“I went back in the Army to officer‘s training school with a broken foot that wouldn‘t heal.“ she says. “Two weeks later, I was doing pushups in an officer‘s training course and I pulled a triceps muscle out in my arm. It swelled up like you wouldn‘t believe.“
Nonetheless, she was considered a “high speed“ candidate by the Army, with her success virtually assured. Captain Thornton was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a social work officer, but was able to complete only one assignment before physical problems overwhelmed her.
What happened next was strangely familiar.
“Walter Reed didn‘t know what to do with me so they set me up to do interviews of Gulf War veterans in an infectious disease program,“ she says. The job involved interviewing soldiers who had Gulf War Syndrome.
“I was at the time, the only active duty social worker in the whole U.S. Army that was doing these interviews. And I started having a rapport with these soldiers passing through because they were describing the same things that I was experiencing. But I thought it couldn‘t be the same, because they had gone to the Gulf, and I didn‘t.“
It wasn‘t until much later that she discovered the research at Tulane which showed that she and the overseas veterans had a common link: anthrax vaccine.
Eventually, neuropathic pain in her limbs and spine disabled Captain Thornton to the point where she was no longer able to walk. She received an honorable discharge from the Army and was placed on temporary retired disability. She was permanently retired from the Army last May with 100 percent disability from the Veterans Administration.
Her retirement came after a five-year battle with the Army.
“Once I got ill, it was almost like I had done something against them,“ she recalls. “When I asked for my final medical retirement, a major went ballistic on me. He said, how could I leave the fold? It was like blaming the victim, and many, many Gulf War veterans have experienced that.“
Nonetheless, Thornton is grateful to doctors she knew at Walter Reed hospital, who took her problems seriously and served as guardian angels. “If this had happened anywhere but at Walter Reed, like in a small army hospital -- I never would have been treated as well. They would have just discharged me.“
“These days I‘ve been holding my own fairly well for the last seven years,“ she says. “This fall I ended up in the emergency room because I had vertigo so bad -- it‘s a problem with my vision and my balance.“ She adds that last January, her vertigo caused her to fall down a stairway, breaking a rib. She also still suffers from muscle cramps and chronic pain running up her spine.
Thornton has gotten to know immunologist Dr. Asa during the course of researching her condition. Later this month, she will be tested for what Dr. Asa calls squalene-induced multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Asa believes that the military is still using squalene in a number of vaccines, including those for smallpox as well as anthrax. Drs. Asa and Garry have developed a test for squalene antibodies and their methodology has been patented by Tulane University. The researchers‘ company, Autoimmune Technologies, has offered to test veterans for free, waiving their fee of $500 per test.
Thus far, Thornton says, there has been no response from the military, and the vaccinations go on.
“I think there could be hundreds of thousands of veterans affected,“ she says. “Here we‘re going into round three of people coming back with symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome and they‘re being ignored. The only way to protect them is to get all of these angry veterans together and demand testing.“
Veterans interested in more information on squalene and vaccinations can email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Is Squalene?
Squalene is produced in the human liver in small amounts. Found in cholesterol, squalene is an oily substance that absorbs oxygen easily. It is presumed to help deliver oxygen throughout the body to the cell tissues.
Squalene taken from sharks has been used in vaccines in an attempt to make them more effective. The theory is that squalene enhances the effects of vaccines.
These vaccines are illegal in the United States, however, since the Food and Drug Administration has not approved any vaccines containing squalene for use. Animal studies have shown dangerous reactions.
Dr. Pam Asa, an immunologist from Memphis, Tennessee, found that squalene adjuvants (additives) in vaccines can induce autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The body‘s immune system literally attacks itself.
One theory on why the body attacks itself is because the squalene used in vaccines comes from sharks, instead of human sources. The body is trying to reject this foreign molecule from another species.
Of 144 veterans suffering from overt Gulf War Syndome, 95% tested at Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans showed high levels of squalene antibodies. These antibodies are not present in Americans who have not been vaccinated.
Squalene can be taken orally without any apparent harm, and is sold as a dietary supplement. Oral squalene is sold in health food stores as being helpful to persons with heart disease, arthritis, hepatitis, gastritis, and for fighting cancer and possibly HIV.
Commercial squalene comes from the livers of sharks from Australia‘s southern oceans. These sharks live at depths of between 1,800 and 6,000 feet, and their livers produce large amounts of squalene to help make the most efficient use of their limited amount of oxygen. The liver of a deep-sea shark can take up 25% of its body.
Initially, military officials said that no vaccines used during the Gulf War contained squalene. They began reversing their story after the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report in 1999. In October, 2000, officials of the Department of Defense admitted that squalene was found in Gulf War vaccines, but are unsure as to how the illegal additive got in vaccines. It is unknown as to whether squalene exists in the vaccines presently being given to military personnel.