Plus ça change – anti-vaccine activists revive the Hannah Poling case

Hannah Poling

Following a pattern we have seen repeatedly, anti-vaccine activists have tried to claim a conspiracy to hide a link between vaccines and autism. The latest effort, reviving the Hannah Poling case, follows the pattern we have seen in previous cases – anti-vaccine activists claim that the government knew of evidence that vaccines cause autism (in this case, through mitochondrial disorders), that the government committed fraud to hide that information, and that the combination of fraud and evidence should be a game changer.

As with those past events, the claims cannot withstand scrutiny. In this case, another claim was added – a denial of due process for claimants in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings generally and in one family’s case specifically. This claim, too, does not hold. 

In contrast to the claims in the latest set of anti-vaccine articles, there was no fraud by the government, the behavior they complain about did not decide the fate of the Omnibus Autism Proceedings, they provide no new evidence that vaccines cause autism, the mitochondrial claim is neither new nor strong, and there was no denial of due process to the claimants in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding or in the specific case in question. Continue reading “Plus ça change – anti-vaccine activists revive the Hannah Poling case”

Vaccine court myths – instead, here are facts about the NVICP

vaccine court myths

The anti-vaccine world loves its myths, because, lacking any real scientific evidence supporting their outlandish claims, fairy tales are all they have. Not that I like picking and choosing the worst of the anti-vaccine urban legends, but the vaccine court myths are among the most egregious and ridiculous.

Although there are a lot of vaccine court myths, though this article will focus on just three:

  1. The vaccine court vs. civil courts.
  2. Vaccine manufacturers are immune to lawsuits.
  3. Billions of dollars have been paid out to “victims.”
  4. The vaccine court said that vaccines cause autism.

Let’s get to the article. Continue reading “Vaccine court myths – instead, here are facts about the NVICP”

Using NVICP cases to prove vaccine-autism link – anti-vaxxers get it wrong

vaccine-autism link

In general, the anti-vaccine religion lacks any scientific evidence supporting their beliefs about vaccine safety and effectiveness. So, they have to default to using memes and tropes based on anecdotes, fake science, or decisions made by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Plan (NVICP). A recent paper, written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss and Rachel Heap, reviewed how NVICP cases are being used and misused by anti-vaccine forces to prove an autism-vaccine link.

Mostly, the anti-vaccine zealots use NVICP cases to attempt to convince the world that there is actual “evidence” that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders. Of course, we know that the vast body of scientific research tells us that there is no vaccine-autism link. Professor Reiss’ article examines key NVICP cases and shows how they are being used and misused by anti-vaccine forces.

This post is going to review some of the key points presented by Professor Reiss and Ms. Heap in their published article. Of course, their article is over 70 pages long (with extensive footnoting), so I’m just going to hit the key points. However, the full article (pdf) is an important and detailed discussion of the misuse and abuse of NVICP cases in an attempt to claim that there is a vaccine-autism link. Continue reading “Using NVICP cases to prove vaccine-autism link – anti-vaxxers get it wrong”

Vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders

Vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders

This post examines the treatment by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) of the first of two claims (see second one here) heard from those claiming vaccines cause more injuries than acknowledged in recent days. This article will focus on vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders – while the second one will cover an NVICP decision with respect to a form of an autoimmune syndrome.

The Special Master’s decisions – as many decisions in NVICP are – are long, complex, and examine the evidence closely and in detail. They address factual debates, expert disagreements specific to the case and expert disagreements on the science.

This post won’t cover them – that’s not my goal. All I will address are the Special Master’s conclusion about two hypotheses raised by those who believe vaccines injured their child (and also promoted by anti-vaccine organizations).

The NVICP (commonly called the Vaccine Court) is a no-fault program created by Congress to serve two goals: to protect the vaccine supply by offering limited liability protections to vaccine manufacturers and providers and to help those injured by vaccines – or even those who may have been so injured – be compensated more easily than in the regular courts.

As I addressed in the past, NVICP provides petitioners – as claimants are called – with substantial breaks compared to the regular courts. Petitioners do not have to prove a product defect or any kind of fault; the requirements for proving causation are relaxed; evidentiary rules are relaxed, allowing the introduction of evidence and experts that would not be allowed in a regular court.

NVICP is not, however, a benefits program. Its goal is not providing any parent with a child with a problem support. The United States certainly needs to offer more support to families of children with disabilities, but NVICP’s aim is different: it focuses on compensating injuries that may, at least, have been caused by vaccines.

To be compensated by an NVICP decision a petitioner does need to meet minimal standards suggesting a possible connection between a vaccine and an injury (a settlement does not require similar proof; parties settle for all kinds of reasons, including a view that the case isn’t worth litigating). At the very least a petitioner needs to show an injury, and provide expert testimony (expert testimony is generally needed when someone claims medical causation in the courts as well – that a medical act, device, drug etc. caused harm – with very narrow exceptions).

Continue reading “Vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders”

Merck vaccine lawsuit – implausible narrative, bad law and facts

Merck vaccine lawsuit

On 19 July 2016, New York Attorney Patricia Finn filed a complaint in a federal district court against the pharmaceutical firm Merck, officials in the Department of Health and Human Services, and Julie Gerberding (formerly director of the CDC, and currently Merck’s Executive Vice President for Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy and Population Health). This Merck vaccine lawsuit, called Doe v Merck,  is an amended complaint that was filed on 20 July, and will be the one examined in this article.

While the complaint was filed in the name of a Jane Doe and Baby Doe, the text of the complaint made it very clear that Jane Doe is in fact Maria Dwyer, and Baby Doe is her son Colin Dwyer.  Colin Dwyer’s case was one of the test cases in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings (OAP) for the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). The Dwyer case, like the other five test cases in the OAP, was rejected.

The Doe v Merck complaint makes two demands. First, that Merck’s license to produce the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (M-M-R®II ) be revoked.

Second, it asks for damages for Colin’s alleged vaccine injuries. The complaint is problematic from three aspects:

  1. The story it tries to tell is full of holes;
  2. as a legal matter, it makes no case; and
  3. it includes many factual inaccuracies.

In short, the Merck vaccine lawsuit is bad work.  However, the complaint is being shared widely, and a discussion of its shortcomings might be of value to many readers.  Continue reading “Merck vaccine lawsuit – implausible narrative, bad law and facts”