Judge: Air Force Doctor Disobeyed Lawful Order by Not Taking Anthrax Vaccine

An Air Force physician facing court-martial for refusing to take the anthrax vaccine submitted his resignation minutes after a military judge ruled that the order to take the drug was lawful. 

Capt. John Buck, a 32-year-old doctor, claimed in a pretrial motion that the germ warfare vaccine is an experimental and potentially hazardous drug that was unlawfully forced on soldiers. 

Lt. Col. Mark Allred, the judge presiding over the case, disagreed and ruled that the order given to Buck was lawful under military law. 

Shortly after Allred's ruling, Buck issued a statement during a recess. 

"My attorneys and I believe that the evidence presented clearly overcame the presumption that the order to take the anthrax vaccine was legal, and thus allowed for a trial based on the facts before a jury of fellow officers," Buck said. "I realize that it is pointless to proceed to trial if these facts cannot be presented to a jury." 

Allred had ordered Buck to enter a plea by the end of the day Thursday, but instead the doctor decided to give up his fight. Buck said military courts have consistently upheld the legality of orders to take anthrax vaccinations. 

An Air Force representative said there have been five completed courts-martial involving the refusal to take the vaccine, and all five defendants were found guilty. 

Buck said he hoped the court-martial would not go forward now that he had submitted his resignation. 

Two very different views on the safety and effectiveness of the anthrax vaccine used by the military emerged during proceedings on Buck's motion, which began Monday. 

Buck's defense team argued that the vaccine is experimental and, as such, Buck had the right under military law to refuse taking it. 

Lead counsel Frank Spinner for Buck urged Allred "to hold the secretary of defense accountable to obey the law of informed consent." 

"It is the secretary of defense who is not obeying the law," Spinner said. "It is not Capt. Buck." 

The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that the military court had no jurisdiction in deciding Defense Department policy. 

"Judges and courts are ill-equipped to make decisions about how to deploy our forces," said Maj. Scott Wilkov, one of two Air Force attorneys for the government. "Congress vested the authority in the Department of Defense to decide — and it has decided — that anthrax is too real a threat and too dangerous to allow any individual to opt out." 

Last October, Buck refused to take the vaccine for deployment to Bahrain, in the Middle East.