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.
I will use a case that started with the tragic death of a young child after a vaccine to illustrate the complexity and operation of the program, and also to address the idea of federal preemption, and how it limits the ability of those claiming vaccine injuries to use state courts for their claims.
On January 18, 2018, Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the Department of Health and Human Services, sent Mr. Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist, and producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, a response to questions he raised about vaccine safety.
The response is a very informative description of the substantial efforts regarding vaccine safety, and can and should reassure parents that there is abundant data – and many monitoring mechanisms in place – to examine and address vaccine safety, and that the expert consensus that vaccines are very safe is well-grounded.
In this article, we are going to take a look at how shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) relates to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) claims. In 1986, the United States Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, which among other things created the NVICP, sometimes called the Vaccine Court. The act’s main goal was to protect vaccine manufacturers from vaccine injury claims and liability–but not for the reasons you might think.
Congress was rightly concerned that the costs for these legal actions were going to drive most, if not all, manufacturers from the USA market. That would have been a horrific problem for the country, with no ability to protect children from deadly and dangerous diseases.
The NVICP provides a no-fault program to resolve vaccine injury claims – “quickly, easily, with certainty and generosity.” The program was (and continues to be) funded by a tax on all vaccines sold in the country. Moreover, using a system of expert administrative “judges” (called Special Masters), a petitioner seeking to establish causation-in-fact must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that but for the vaccination, they would not have been injured, and that the vaccination was a substantial factor in bringing about their injury.
The goal of this article is to respond to a number of recurring myths raised by anti-vaccine activists regarding vaccine testing and safety – a common trope used against vaccines.
The bottom line is that vaccines are extensively and carefully tested for safety, and that vaccine safety is shown by many, many studies from a variety of sources, reinforcing each other and all pointing to the same result – serious problems from vaccines are possible, but extremely rare. And those small, rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits vaccines provide by protecting us against much larger risks.
On April 1, 2019, Chief Special Master Nora Beth Dorsey rejected a lawsuit from Dr. Theresa Deisher before the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for compensation for the loss of her young son (referred to as H.S.) who died on July 3, 2015, aged 14, from an aggressive cancer. It is horrible to lose a child at any age, and incredibly painful to lose a young child.
Circuit Judge Pauline Newman dissented to the Court of Appeals decision, joined by Judge Jimmie V. Reyna. Although Judge Newman’s dissent carries no legal authority, it can be offered as persuasive materials in other cases. It should not, however, carry much weight, because Judge Newman’s dissent mischaracterizes the Oliver vaccine injury case, mischaracterizes the relevant science, and makes numerous other errors.
Anti-vaccine activists consistently try to incorporate other groups’ slogans and statements, such as #MeToo, to increase legitimacy. Rarely, it gets some traction – for example, they have somewhat successfully convinced some Republican lawmakers that their demand to be able to send their children to school without vaccinating them are about “parental rights”, even though they have no parental authority over the classmates that could be put at risk by unvaccinated children.
More often, these attempts fall flat. For example, the anti-vaccine movement tried to build on the black lives matter movement with their own version, “vaccine injured lives matter” – with jarring, painful results, especially from the anti-vaxxer community that skews white and wealthy.
Recently, the anti-vaccine movement has tried to adopt two other slogans. First, it tried to claim that the “my body, my choice” statement used by pro-choice activists can be used to oppose school mandates.
This is about the case of little J. B. Boatman, who was born four weeks prematurely, at the 36th week. However, he rebounded from his early start, and at his four-months, well baby pediatric visit, on September 2 was doing very well and found healthy. At that visit, J.B. had the routine 4 months vaccines. Tragically, the next day (September 3) little J.B. was found lifeless in his crib. His death was ruled to be the result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But did vaccines cause SIDS in J.B.?
In August 2017 the Boatmon decision was shared on anti-vaccine sites as evidence that vaccines cause SIDS. The decision does not, however, support the claim because it is flawed internally in several ways. It misuses and discounts the epidemiological evidence, accepts a problematic theory over the objection of a more qualified expert, and ignores several of the important factors of the case. In addition to its internal flaws, the decision is in tension with many other decisions of NVICP – in fact, it seems an outlier – and it is interesting that the same sites that tout this problematic decision ignore other decisions that ruled otherwise. Continue reading “Vaccines cause SIDS? Not supported by Boatmon vs HHS case”