Military Personnel Banned
From H1N1 Vaccine Sites
If you want to draw attention to a problem, try hiding it. That's
the strategy of several military bases when it comes to the H1N1
Shortly after the Pentagon announced that all Armed Services
personnel would soon be facing a mandatory H1N1 vaccination program,
I started receiving email from soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors
because of a previous story
I had written on the anthrax vaccine. Mandatory vaccine programs
are a sensitive subject in the military, so it's not a huge surprise
that swift and visceral reactions to the program gained speed.
With a vaccine that was so new and little known about it, like
many Americans, troops were heading to the web to find answers
to their very legitimate questions -- not only for themselves,
but for their families who have the option of receiving the vaccine
on base. What they found instead is that several websites and
blogs with key information asking critical questions had been
blocked from their viewing.
Among those that were repeatedly mentioned as blocked sites are
the National Vaccine
Information Center (NVIC), the site for Gary
Matsumoto's book Vaccine-A, and vaccine expert Dr.
Meryl Nass. NVIC is a national, non-profit founded in 1980s
that, through public education, advocates "vaccine safety
and informed consent protections in the mass vaccination system."
Matsumoto's site contains a forum in which thousands upon thousands
of service members have posted testimonies regarding their experiences
with the anthrax vaccine. And Nass is one of the world's foremost
experts on vaccines who has testified in front of Congressional
committees -- and, I might add, never has had a malpractice suit
brought against her.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sites,
however, are all available for military personnel. The official
word from governmental agencies is welcome but critics, regardless
of whether they were considered experts, are not.
According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Public Affairs, the only blocking of websites Pentagon-wide
was in 2007, when a number of heavy-trafficked sites that "used
lots of bandwidth" had to be denied to reduce the wear on
networks "to ensure they continued to be available for mission
That turns out not to be entirely accurate.
Some of you may recall the reporting earlier this year when wired.com's
Danger Room blog reported that the Pentagon
was blocking not only YouTube, but even their own TroopTube.
When TroopTube launched last November, for instance, it was billed
as an answer to the bandwidth and security concerns surrounding
other video sites. TroopTube "crunches video files into several
sizes and automatically plays the one that best suits viewers'
Internet connection speeds," the Associated Press reported
at the time. And "a Pentagon employee screens each [upload]
for taste, copyright violations and national security issues."
Nonetheless, the public affairs office at the Pentagon further
instructed me that "anything that may be blocked at the Service
or base level should be addressed there -- it's a local issue."
Since I had the most information (and the most complaints) about
Wright-Patterson Air Force in Ohio, that's where I directed my
questions. After repeated email and phones calls, nearly two weeks
later a spokesperson for Wright-Patterson told me that:
The Air Force general policy is all websites are placed into
categories based upon their content and intended audience. All
unethical categories are blocked as are any sites that are uncategorized.
Currently the sites referenced are blocked because they are uncategorized.
A wholly unsatisfactory answer that side-stepped the question,
I took this statement to mean that blocking these websites had
nothing to do with bandwidth use as in the Pentagon statement
and everything to do with the content.
I asked the follow-up question: Since this is a recent decision
to block them, why would they not just be categorized rather than
being uncategorized? As a result, they would not be blocked for
educational purposes of service personnel who have a mandatory
H1N1 vaccination program?
Wright-Patterson did not respond to this question.
Making sure that servicemen and servicewomen consent to the vaccine
and are informed is apparently not a concern for the Department
of Defense. But the message is very clear for one service member
who contacted me: "All you need to know is what we're telling
you, so shut up and take the vaccine with no questions asked."
Nass, one of the experts whose site has been blocked, points
out the real shame in all of this: "It's unfortunate that
the service members who are defending our civil rights are not
afforded the same consideration."
f you're on a base that has blocked websites related to the H1N1
vaccine, I'd love to know what sites are blocked and what base
you're on. You can post the info in the comments below or contact