This article about the tragic death of Evee Gayle Clobes was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.
On March 1, 2019, Evee Gayle Clobes, a six-month-old baby, died in her mother’s bed. Because Evee had received her vaccines 36 hours before her death, and with the urging, courting, and support of anti-vaccine activists eager to use her and her story, her mother blamed vaccines.
However, this tragedy is even less appropriately blamed on vaccines than most, because there is a clear other cause for Evee’s death: According to the evidence detailed in a letter from the medical examiner, Evee Gayle Clobes, sadly, tragically, suffocated to death because of unsafe sleep conditions.
It is horrible to lose a child, and no parent should have to pay such a heavy price for a choice that could be mistakenly thought to be a reasonable one. But blaming vaccines incorrectly here can actively hurt others in multiple ways.
What happened to Evee Gayle Clobes?
According to Evee’s mother’s account (spelled out on March 11, 2019, in an article on the Stop Mandatory Vaccines site), Evee was a very healthy, happy little girl for her first six months. She received her immunizations on schedule and was loved very much by her mother and her two older siblings.
On February 27, 2019, she received vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, polio, and pneumococcal disease. In her later interview on Mr. Del Bigtree’s show, Highwire, Ms. Clobes stated that Evee received these vaccines in only two shots, one of which contained five vaccines in one shot, Pediarix.
In a Facebook post from March 2, 2019, the mother described her as being on that day “in perfect health, as she was her whole life.” In her article on Stop Mandatory Vaccines, she described Evee as doing well that day:
That whole day she was giggling as usual, eating solid foods, nursing just fine, no temperature, no other signs or symptoms that I could remember. Nothing out of the ordinary.
However, in her interview on Del Bigtree’s show, she claimed otherwise, describing some mild symptoms:
After four hours, her cheeks started getting really red and she was really warm. I remember messaging my sister ‘I think Evee’s teething’. Later that night she just seemed a little bit ‘out of it’. The next day, I tried to feed Evee solid foods and she kept shaking her head.
The night of February 28, Ms. Clobes put Evee down for the night on the bed they shared. Evee fell deep asleep – and never woke up. When her mother checked on her on the morning of March 1, she was dead:
“I picked rolled [id] her face over and saw that she was passed.”
While Ms. Clobes has insisted since that Evee was on her back, the initial police report pointed out there was “pooling of the blood on the right arm and chest area” and “white pressure areas on the face … consistent with a child that would have been on her face”, and this initial statement may better reflect how the child was – face down.
Faced with a mother’s worst nightmare, her mother called an ambulance, the baby was rushed to the hospital and was pronounced dead. A baby’s death is a horrible tragedy; Evee Gayle Clobes was, by videos and testimony, a sweet, happy, healthy baby, and it’s hard to overstate how sad it is that her life was cut short. Evee, her siblings, Ms. Clobes, and the rest of the family deserve a lot of sympathy for this horrible, painful loss.
At some point between March 1 and March 11, 2019, her mother went onto the anti-vaccine Facebook group Stop Mandatory Vaccines and asked whether vaccines could cause this. Unsurprisingly, the anti-vaccine members told her it could, and provided her with advice. By March 11, Ms. Clobes was convinced enough of the link to vaccines to interview for the group’s online newsletter and directly blame vaccines.
Among the advice she was given was, apparently, to request certain tests from the medical examiner, have her clinic file a VAERS report, and hire a vaccine court lawyer. She was also, at some point, directed to a neuropathologist who specializes in working with parents who blame their child’s death on vaccines.
Evee’s mother, Ms. Catie Clobes, was, understandably, unhappy with the initial verdict about her death, which was “Undetermined”. That is understandable: it is a hard verdict to deal with.
In response, it appears she made several angry calls to the medical examiner’s office. In a post from March 22, 2019, Ms. Clobes documented angry words and accusations on her part. The pathologist, apparently, remained calm and courteous in response.
Apparently, Ms. Clobes then worked with the neuropathologist her new anti-vaccine friends directed her to, Dr. Douglas Miller. She had further communications with the medical examiner based on what Dr. Miller told her. On June 29, 2019, the Chief Medical Examiner wrote her a letter summarizing the evidence on her case. The Chief Medical Examiner’s letter is worth quoting almost in full:
I have taken the opportunity to re-review all the case information, including scene description and photos, law enforcement reports and photos, autopsy report and photos, tissue samples, and other studies. I have also discussed the case again with the investigating law enforcement agency and other forensic pathologists. I requested the law enforcement report and reviewed an initial examination of your daughter by a Detective _____, which I have not previously seen. As you are aware, Evee was found dead in an adult bed which also contained you, an adult-sized comforter, and adult-sized pillos, factors which create an unsafe sleeping environment for an infant. All photos of Evee clearly show pooling of the blood over the front of her body and face, indicating that she was face-down in the bed when she died and for some time afterwards; this is supported by the presence of purge fluid on the sheet in the area where Evee was sleeping. The examination by Detective _____ specifically notes impressions on Evee’s face due to being face down on the blankets. Given these scene and autopsy findings, the most accurate diagnosis is positional asphyxia. I will therefore be amending the death certificate to reflect this. Because there are no scene or autopsy findings and no scientific literature to support vaccination as a cause of, or contributor to, Evee’s death, the death certificate will not be amended to include vaccination.
This is crystal clear. In response to Ms. Clobes’ request, the Chief Medical Examiner re-examined the evidence thoroughly. It shows that Evee, asleep in an adult bed with adult bedding, suffocated from being face down.
The letter is direct but very matter-of-fact. It sets out the details clearly.
The neuropathologist and additional claims
In her interview with Del Bigtree, Ms. Clobes presented the medical examiner’s letter and set out her case against it. There are two parts to her claims. First, she heavily draws on the neuropathologist she hired, Dr. Douglas Miller. In the second, she accused the medical examiner of lying. Let’s take the claims in order.
According to her statements in the interview with Mr. Bigtree, Ms. Clobes’ hired expert, Dr. Miller, told her that he:
…found a cellular infiltration in a part of Evee’s hippocampus. He said, this is weird, I never received a slide of the medulla. This is essential to this case, to any SIDS case. You know, the medulla is responsible for your breathing. It’s everything. Any damage to the medulla is significant.
He also said that
…some infants have an underdeveloped medulla, and some infants have an underdeveloped 5HT system. And when they have an upper respiratory infection, or are given vaccinations, this causes the production of a range of cytokines in the infant’s body that crosses the blood-brain barrier through an active mechanism and it suppresses the activity of the medulla and — it surpasses the activity of the hypothalamus and — which is what induces a fever, after vaccination, it suppressed the 5HT system and this is what can induce SIDS in infants.
I hope some of our science bloggers go deeper into the scientific aspects of Dr. Miller’s claims.
In the meantime, I would point out that Dr. Miller has made his cytokine claims in many National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP, or “the vaccine court”). cases. Aside from one case, Boatmon, his theories have never been accepted, because experts who actually write about cytokines pointed out the lack of evidence behind them and the evidence against a link between vaccines and SIDS. That one decision, Boatmon, was correctly overturned on appeal – because it was very badly reasoned, scientifically and on the facts.
It’s natural for Ms. Clobes, a non-expert, to accept the word of an expert supportive of her claim – she wants to believe, and lacks the scientific background to counter them. But there is no reason for others to do so.
Dr. Miller may sincerely believe his hypotheses, but they have yet to withstand expert scrutiny. And if they’re weak in the routine case he testifies in, in this case, there is clear evidence of another cause, positional asphyxia, as the Chief Medical Examiner explained. There is no good way to get around blood pooled in the child’s face for lying face down, and the other evidence that she died from suffocating.
Ms. Clobes’ other claim is that the medical examiner lied. But Ms. Clobes did not point to any convincing reason for the medical examiner to lie. She suggested the Department of Justice leaned on her – but there are many cases that go to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program where an infant’s death is undetermined.
Why single Ms. Clobes’ case out? She’s a young woman from Minnesota. She has no better evidence, even without the medical examiner’s letter than many other cases the Department of Justice prevailed in, and however important her case is to her, to the Department of Justice, she’s just another claimant making a claim they’ve seen many times before – with more evidence than usual against her, it appears. And why would a state Chief Medical Examiner – someone whose job is to be impartial, and who is not a federal employee – listen to such pressure from a federal agency, rather than react unfavorably and report this improper interference?
Further, the letter was clearly written with the knowledge that the case will go to vaccine court – the medical examiner expressly states that. In such a procedure, the letter may well be provided to the court – and the facts in it examined by one or both parties. Beyond vaccine court, the care taken to set out the facts suggests that the Medical Examiner was aware of at least a possibility of further steps taken by Ms. Clobes. In such further proceedings, facts set out in such detail could be easily checked. For example, police reports could be examined. Misrepresenting them would be irrational and could harm the medical examiner’s career.
Ms. Clobes has clearly attached herself to the anti-vaccine cause. She has engaged in several fundraisers to help, apparently, cover her autopsy expenses, and help other families cover such autopsies in the future. She put up billboards with her daughter’s legs in bandaids.
And she appears to have drawn other families into a similar struggle. She is investing extensive energy in fighting against vaccines. But vaccines prevent diseases and save lives, with very little risk.
Vaccines do not cause SIDS (let alone suffocation). And the Chief Medical Examiner clearly set out why vaccines did not kill Evee. In her guilt and pain, Ms. Clobes is directing her energy to a cause that can actively harm other children.
I understand that she is in constant pain. I understand that the anti-vaccine activists are taking advantage of her pain and using her in ways that will not help her heal. But the cost, if she does not step away from the anti-vaccine cause, can be high. Having other children harmed by tetanus, measles, and other diseases will not negate the tragedy of Evee’s death, and her beautiful baby deserves a better legacy than that.
I hope Ms. Clobes re-channels her energy into fighting against unsafe sleep practices. If she does that, she can save other children’s lives, and turn her tragedy – the loss of Evee Gayle Clobes – into a force for good.
Update 24 September 2019
A recent NBC story added important details to this situation. The story mentioned that Ms. Clobes’ call to 911 mentioned the co-sleeping:
Distraught, Clobes called 911.
“This can’t be real,” Clobes told the operator, according to a transcript of the call. “This is because she was sleeping with me.”
The story mentions that Ms. Clobes was directed to the anti-vaccine groups by commenters who came to her original post. And although it confirms that Ms. Clobes’ initial neuropathologist was Dr. Miller’s, it quotes Dr. Miller contradicting the mother’s story:
Miller said his investigation found no evidence that vaccines had contributed to Evee’s death. He said he told Clobes of his conclusion, and had declined to support her case in the federal government’s National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, known more commonly as Vaccine Court. He declined to name the factors that led to his decision, citing concern for Clobes’ privacy.
Online, however, Clobes claimed Dr. Miller’s report offered “proof” that Evee had suffered “a cellular infiltration triggered by an immune response from the vaccinations.”
In an email to NBC News, Miller said the neuropathologist Clobes referred to “was not me, if he or she actually exists.”
“I did not tell Ms. Clobes of any such finding,” Miller said, “and I did not provide her or her attorney with any report which alleged any such finding.”
It is unclear whether Ms. Clobes does, in fact, have a separate neuropathologist or if her statements were based on some misunderstanding of Dr. Miller’s report.
This article was originally published in September 2019. It has been updated with some additional information.