Brian Hooker holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and has a background that involves researching and teaching in related areas. He is also the father of a boy – now almost young man, at 16 and a half – with autism. Brian Hooker believes his son’s autism was caused by vaccines, and he has been vocal about it.
In 2002 Brian Hooker filed a claim with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), the special administrative program created in 1986 to compensate vaccine injuries. On 19 May 2016, the court rejected his claim in a detailed, comprehensive decision. The Special Master explained that “this is not a close case.”
This post explains the decision, explaining the legal framework and the application of it. In short, the claim was rejected because:
The evidence suggested that SRH – the initials by which Hooker’s son was known – had symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) from early on. In fact, these symptoms appeared long before receiving the vaccines alleged to cause his harm. Moreover, there was no evidence of regression or other severe reaction to the vaccines.
The evidence does not support, and in fact, contradicts, Hooker’s contention that thimerosal-containing vaccines cause autism. This evidence consisted of scientific studies and expert reports. Hooker’s experts’ had questionable credibility and qualifications, and were, at least, far surpassed by the Respondent’s, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, experts.
This decision follows the thorough and detailed Omnibus Autism Proceedings, along with many other decisions that found the same.
Opponents of legislation to tighten school immunization requirements have been promoting a movie called Trace Amounts to legislators and others. They seem to think this movie proves a link between thimerosal – a mercury-based preservative in vaccines – and autism. It shows, in their view, that our vaccine program is corrupt and harmful through and through, and hence is an argument against vaccine mandates. The movie, however, shows nothing of the sort. There is no new evidence in it, and it simply repeats old and disproven claims.
Let me start with this simple fact based on an enormous amount of scientific evidence – vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccines are unrelated to autism. There is no correlation between vaccines and autism. How many different ways should we parse this?
Annoyingly, there is a broad swath of vaccine deniers who continue to make this claim, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence. If this idea weren’t so dangerous to preventing diseases in children, it would be laughable.
The myth that vaccines are related to autism can be squarely blamed on Mr. Andy Wakefield who fraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield published his claims in the Lancet, a mostly respected medical journal who seemed to have forgotten how to do proper peer review. However, it was retracted by the journal, while most of Wakefield’s coauthors disavowed the findings.
Update 1. Added more criticism of this paper (since the data is not new) from Emily Willingham.
One of ongoing criticisms of science deniers (and more specifically, of vaccine deniers) is that they make claims without the support of peer reviewed published articles. What the antivaccination movement doesn’t understand (really, it’s about all anti-science groups, but this is about vaccines) is that “peer review” is not by itself some magical bit of information. It’s really the result of the quality of journal, the reputation of the authors, the methods that were used to gather the data, the quality of statistical analysis of the data, and whether the conclusion is supported by the evidence or data.
So it’s not magic, it’s discernible and objective quality.
Moreover, it’s important to know if this research is repeated and used to build stronger hypotheses in subsequent research. A scientific paper, standing by itself, may or may not have any usefulness going forward. I’m sure you’ve read how marijuana cures cancer, but the data supporting that is based on one-off, unrepeated animal studies. This happens all the time. The mainstream news will claim XYZ prevents ABC cancer. Within 12 months, no one talks about it anymore, because the research is never repeated.