Air Force Times     
June 25, 2001

Reservist wants restitution for sudden hair loss

By David Castellon
Times staff writer

Air Force Reserve Master Sgt. Clarence L. McNamer in January was granted a waiver from taking further anthrax vaccinations.Now he wants to be reimbursed for more than $11,000 he spent to convince Air Force officials that the sudden, total loss of all the hair above his neck last summer likely was an allergic reaction to his fifth anthrax vaccination, not the onset of
middle-age hair loss. In addition, McNamer wants 130 hours of sick leave and annual leave he took to undergo the exams and consultations given back to him.McNamer says he has been waiting since April 11 for hospital administrators at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to let him know if the military will cover his bills.Officials at Travis’ 349th Aircraft Generation Squadron, where the 49-year-old McNamer serves as a C-5 Galaxy crew chief, declined to comment.

Leigh Anne Bierstine, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Surgeon General’s Office, said her office “cannot comment on specifics of individual medical cases.”She did say that, outside of medical emergencies, “all Air Force members must receive preauthorization from their primary care physicians before seeking civilian medical care.”Such authorizations usually are granted for medical problems acquired in the line of duty, she said. But the 349th commander didn’t rule that McNamer’s medical problems may have resulted from the vaccination until Feb. 13. That’s about seven months after he began seeing private doctors and specialists.Those visits began shortly after McNamer’s wife discovered that several quarter-sized patches of his thick, brown hair had fallen out and that sores were growing on the bare skin. In addition, he was experiencing persistent flu-like symptoms.  McNamer suspected either the vaccination or his constant exposure to JP-8 jet fuel was to blame. He said he mentioned both to the flight surgeon at Travis he saw in early June of last year, as well as subsequent military doctors who examined him.

One doctor later described his symptoms as “male pattern baldness.”By August, McNamer lost all the hair on his scalp, along with his eyelashes, beard growth and even his nose hairs. In addition, the pus-filled sores had spread across his scalp, and he suffered from muscle pain, vision problems and memory loss.But the military doctors weren’t discussing the shots as a possible cause. “It’s like they wanted it to be anything but the anthrax shot,” McNamer said, adding that one of his private doctors filed a Vaccine Adverse Event Reaction System report with the Food and Drug Administration although three military doctors didn’t.The male pattern baldness diagnosis prevented his private health-care provider from covering “baldness treatments,” so he had to dig into his own wallet to pay for the exams.Dr. Mohammed A. Al-Bayati, a comparative pathologist specializing in work-related illnesses, later ruled out age, JP-8 exposure or an autoimmune problem as causes of the hair loss. His ruling was based on medical tests by both military and civilian doctors, including a biopsy of McNamer’s skin.

The likely culprit was an allergic reaction, Al-Bayati concluded. And despite the severity of the hair loss and how bad McNamer felt for months, his was not an extreme reaction, Al-Bayati said.Out of the 1,530 military members who reported minor to serious ailments after getting anthrax shots (from more than 505,000 who’ve received them so far), nine said they had some sort of hair loss, said James Turner, a Defense Department spokesman.

He did not provide details of those cases. Al-Bayati said he believes the vaccine may have activated production of new cells in McNamer’s body, causing a zinc deficiency that could have caused the hair loss. While his findings aren’t conclusive, he said the capper for him was that after McNamer began taking zinc, his hair began growing back in September.Capt. (Dr.) Steven J. Gustaveson, a Reserve flight surgeon with the 349th, granted McNamer a waiver from having to take his follow-up anthrax vaccinations shortly after Al-Bayati completed his evaluation in January of this year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he agrees with all of Al-Bayati’s conclusions.“Whether you can attribute it to one vaccination, you can’t say,” he said, because McNamer had received his fourth and fifth anthrax shots as well as a typhoid vaccination within four months of each other.“I don’t know why they were so close together,” but Gustaveson said it’s more likely McNamer’s ailments resulted from the combination of shots.

Whatever the cause, McNamer worries that he may suffer long-term health problems even though he’s got a full head of hair, is feeling better and began flying again in May after being medically grounded for a year. Still, McNamer said, “I’m not against the
anthrax shots. I’ve been in the military a long time, and I’ve taken a lot of shots. I believe the military has a lot invested in me and wouldn’t do anything to harm me or do me ill health. At least that’s my hope.”All he wants right now is for the military to reimburse him.

Fairfield Daily Republic
Doctor: Anthrax vaccine caused problem
By Ian Thompson
TRAVIS AFB - If it was any other vaccination, Air Force Reserve Master Sgt. Clarence McNamer figures he wouldn't have had half the problems he did.

But since his medical problems could relate to the controversial anthrax vaccine, McNamer, 49, has been through the wringer to first get his hair loss, sores, shaking and other problems treated and then get his medical insurance to pay for it.
"It was like the book had not been written yet to diagnose an anthrax problem," McNamer said. "I still don't know for sure whether it was the anthrax (vaccine)."

That's made it hard to get an estimated $11,000 in medical bills paid. He had to go to civilian doctors for help and wants the Air Force to reimburse him. The Air Force will only say, in general, that military personnel need to get any visits to civilian doctors authorized before the visit occurs.

The Air Force Reservist and member of the 349th Air Mobility Wing's 349th Aircraft Generation Squadron figures things started going wrong in early June 2000 shortly after he got his fifth shot in the anthrax vaccine regimen.

His wife noticed handfuls of hair falling out, leaving sores on the quarter-sized bare spots. "I started feeling bad and my hair started falling out," McNamer said.

McNamer figured the fault lay either with the vaccination or the jet fuel he came in contact with while working on the Travis Air Force Base flightline.

He started seeing Air Force doctors, but they couldn't stop the hair loss. One doctor attributed the hair loss to male pattern baldness, McNamer said. By the end of August, his scalp was completely stripped of hair. He also lost his eyelashes, chin growth and nose hairs and suffered from memory loss, vision problems and muscle pain.

McNamer turned to his personal civilian doctor who in turn referred him to a dermatologist and then to University of California, Davis, Dr. Mohammed Al-Bayati, a pathologist specializing in work-related diseases. Tests ruled out aviation fuel exposure, age or an autoimmune problem as reasons why McNamer lost his hair. When the doctor asked if he had recently taken any vaccinations, "the light came on," McNamer said. The doctor figured the vaccine activated the production of new cells, causing a zinc deficiency that could have prompted McNamer's hair to fall out.  "My health has improved and I have started to feel better," McNamer said.

While his health seems to be on the upswing, "I am trying to get things back to normal and I need to get my medical bills paid."
McNamer got a waiver in January freeing him from taking any more anthrax vaccinations after convincing the Air Force that the sudden, complete loss of his hair was due to an allergic reaction to his fifth anthrax vaccination.

His health insurance carrier, after getting initial reports saying his hair loss was due to male pattern baldness, declined to cover his bills.

"The only other course of action was to bill the Air Force," McNamer said.

He wants the Air Force to reimburse him for the $11,000 he spent to convince the Air Force it was the vaccination and not an onset of sudden middle-age hair loss. He also wants to get back 130 hours of annual leave and sick leave he used for exams and consultations with doctors.

While the Air Force's Surgeon General's Office declined to comment on the specific case, it did state Air Force members need to get preauthorization from their primary care physician before going to outside civilian medical care.

The 349th AMW's Public Affairs Office referred questions about the matter to the base's Tricare office. Tricare is the military's HMO provider.

The 349th AMC did decide that McNamer's hair loss may have been the result of the vaccination, but the mid-February ruling was made seven months after McNamer started seeing outside specialists and doctors.

McNamer is still concerned about long-term effects of the shots, even though he now has his hair back and medical clearances to fly again after a year restricted to the ground.

Even after this, McNamer is still not against anthrax vaccinations and praises all that the Air Force has done for him.
"I am happy with what the Air Force has given me and I have a good job," McNamer said. "I just want to get my bills paid."
Ian Thompson can be reached at  

Mohammed Ali Al-Bayati
Ph.D., D.A.B.T., D.A.B.V.T.
Toxicologist and Pathologist
Toxi-Health International
150 Bloom Dr.
Dixon, CA 95620

Tel: (707) 678-4484
Fax: (707) 678-8505