Earlier today, the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA) held a press conference on the steps of the US Court of Federal Claims and presented the findings of an investigation of the “Vaccine Court” settlements paid out to families that had experienced vaccine injuries.
The peer-reviewed study looked at cases of vaccine-injured families that have been monetarily compensated by the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). It was published today in the Pace Environmental Law Review and investigated cases that were ruled in favor of the plaintiffs dealing specifically with childhood brain injuries as a result of vaccinations that also made reference to autism, its symptoms or other disorders associated with it.
What they found was that 21 cases specifically referenced autism or “autism-like symptoms” in court records. The researchers identified and contacted another 150 more compensated families and found that 62 of those cases also had autism, resulting in 83 cases in total.
Keeping an open mind with a lack of bias, this raises several questions. I would like to address some key points and present them as though this was the first time someone has heard of the autism-vaccine controversy altogether.
- Is a settlement really proof of anything?
By its very definition, a settlement, whether in or out of court, is just that. Both parties settle with each other and no finding is made, no one is a winner and there is typically no definitive proof or admission wrongdoing. As such, whether you have a settlement case for or against a family, nothing is actually proved or disproved. It simply indicates that an agreement was reached.
- What is the difference between “has autism," “causes autism," and “autism-like symptoms?"
In the study, as well as the resulting media coverage, there needs to be a distinction between whether or not the vaccines specifically caused autism in the plaintiff families or if it caused something else similar to autism or if the child had autism regardless of the vaccines.
Nowhere in the study or in any of the court settlements does it state that autism was caused by vaccinations. It does however, state that some children developed “autism-like symptoms," which could or could not specifically be autism itself.
Additionally, the study started with 1,300 cases and found 83 confirmed cases diagnosed with autism. That certainly puts it higher than the current 1 in 110 CDC estimates but it’s still a small enough percentage of the total group. The question then becomes, if autism is genetic and 1 in 110 develops it, wouldn’t an identical percentage of the vaccine-injured children also have autism?
- The actual purpose of the press conference
What I fear will happen with a lot of the media, which is happening already, is that this press conference will be used as “proof” of an autism-vaccine link, sparking further “anti-vaccine” sentiment among parents who fear for their children’s health.
As I watched things unfold on Ustream, I also paid attention to the chat room and its messages.
In the press conference, parents gave heart-wrenching testimonies and explained their situation, but also clearly indicated that they were pro-safety advocates. Each one of them said, and I quote, “I want to make it clear that I’m not anti-vaccine.”
However, that sentiment did not translate into the chat room as many visitors would shout (via all caps) “I’M ANTI-VACCINE!," and even some repeatedly claiming that “vaccines don’t work!” The message is not the same and further clouds the debate.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield himself has been quoted as saying, "I’ve not said, ‘Don’t get vaccinated.’ I strongly advocate for the use of single vaccines.”
It is very important for people to realize that even though the safety of vaccines has been put into question, it is not advised that parents stop vaccinating their children altogether.
And contrary to what has been reported by some, today’s press conference was not "proof" of a link between autism and vaccines, nor was it intended to make anyone stop vaccinating their children. It was a passionate call to Congress and vaccine manufacturers to do proper research and make vaccines safer, as well as have the government provide better services and compensation for families that have suffered vaccine-related injuries.