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June 22, 2011

White Coats Still Providing Service

Norman M. Covert

Nearly 2,300 Seventh-day Adventist soldiers, who volunteered to serve as medical research subjects for the U. S. Army at Fort Detrick and Walter Reed Hospital some 57 years ago, show no adverse health effects, according to a recently completed health survey.


“No significant difference” in health profiles of men of similar age and demographic status was reported among these “White Coat Program” participants in the second health survey of this unique population.


Findings in the report were outlined at a medical briefing March 5, 2011, by Dr. Lawrence Beeson, associate professor of Epidemiology at Loma Linda (CA) University School of Public Health. Dr. Beeson is heading the effort to complete a medical journal peer review in the fall.


A remarkable statistic revealed 83 percent of the 535 respondents are in excellent to good health. The survey of 55-to-84-year-olds had a statistically significant 47.3 percent return rate.


Respondents took part in one or more of the 16 human-use protocols under direction of the U. S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories at Camp and Fort Detrick. These included: Q fever (first protocol); anthrax, yellow fever, plague, tularemia and chickungunya. There were no participant fatalities.


“Thirty-eight years following the completion of the projects – and after two health surveys and the review of 133 deaths,” Frederick Surgeon Dr. Frank Damazo asserted that “we can say with considerable confidence that this American and Adventist cooperative effort was carefully conceived, competently performed and carefully monitored with no deaths or long term adverse effects on the health of 2,300 participants.


“(It) provided the first and largest study of the human body’s response to vaccines and infectious diseases. Plus it confirmed the safety of 15 vaccines…still in use that have saved many thousands of lives.


“The favorable health survey reports,” he continued,” make it more important than ever that we continue to monitor the (future) causes of death (among these veterans). That would become the ultimate evaluation of the project exposures.”


Dr. Damazo spearheaded efforts to recognize the service of these White Coat volunteers and to solicit empirical data about their two-year active duty service. They were awarded medals by the U. S. Army and Seventh-day Adventists for their “heroic service.”


Until the Selective Service System suspended “drafting” young men into military service in 1973, Seventh-day Adventist members were classified as “1-AO,” or conscientious objectors. They were required to report for induction, but given the option of serving in non-combat jobs including medics.


Dr. Beeson explained that “…surveys asked for a self-reported current health status. The different responses…were compared between those who had a specific exposure to those who did not have that exposure.”


The first health survey was conducted from 1991-92 by the U. S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick. It was published in Military Medicine (170, 3:183 2005).


“It is the goal of the current research team to publish in a similar manner the statistical analysis from the second survey,” Dr. Beeson continued.”


The Biological Warfare Laboratories mission included learning about infectious disease, its origin, life cycle, and means of transmission. It also sought means of diagnosing, treating and preventing infectious diseases.


The late Brig. Gen. William G. Tigertt was first commander of the U. S. Army Medical Unit (USAMU) in 1954 and assumed responsibility for the newly approved human volunteer effort from Dr. Arnold G. Wedum.


The agreement with the Seventh-day Adventist church was signed November 3, 1955, and was based on the strict guideline of “informed consent” for every soldier prior. Each was fully briefed on protocols and given the option of taking part. When not in a protocol each was assigned to regular military duties.


General Tigertt recruited the first classes of White Coat volunteers at the U. S. Army Medical Training Center, at Fort Sam Houston, TX. Col. Daniel Crozier succeeded General Tigertt as commander of USAMU and managed the unique White Coat program until its end in 1973.


Seventh Day Adventist volunteers brought healthy life styles to the research. Most did not consume alcohol or use tobacco and adhered to the church’s dietary guidelines. These factors enhanced the dependability of data captured in the protocols.


USAMU, which grew from the former Walter Reed satellite health clinic at Camp Detrick, provided medical care for all military and civilian personnel and monitored “defensive research” protocols.


(This article is adapted from the original published June 15, 2011, in It is used with permission of the author.)


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