Because this blog post is likely to attract new readers to my blog, before I get into the meat of the debate I feel some preamble is in order. Facebook is a wonderful thing. It allows us to reconnect and stay in contact with friends to a degree that old skool letter writing simply wouldn't allow. One interesting derivative of facebook is that we can learn how our own views differ from those of our friends and our friends' friends. As we progress though life we tend to surround ourselves most closely with people who share our own point of view. Facebook allows us to observe in real time how our views have changed or are diverging from past peer groups.
So what's my point? I guess what I'm getting at is that I think having friends/friends of friends who have divergent views from my own allows me to examine my own beliefs more critically. For example, politically I have what Americans call a "liberal" bias (in Canada I'd be much closer to the centre) but thanks to facebook I can read articles that my more right leaning friends post. Having access to these articles allows me to see things from a perspective that I probably might not have otherwise. Sometimes I discount these countervailing views as malarky but occasionally I will agree with some of the points and modify my position. The most fruitful reaction is when I respond to the article. Doing so allows me to clarify my own position to myself and determine whether my position is simply an opinion or whether there are strong arguments and/or evidence which support my position. Sometimes things get heated but as long as my friends and I stay within boundaries appropriate to our friendship/character the outcome is usually fruitful for the both of us. Basically, this blog entry the the result of one of those interactions.
As a caveat, I loves me some sarcasm, it's built into my DNA so I urge you not to take too much offence if I am dismissive of any of your cherished beliefs. I'll do my best to temper it (Ha!) On the bright side I can take just as well as I can dish it...so give me your best!
Although I'm but a babe in the woods in academia and I have no specialized knowledge, I would argue that training in philosophy qualifies one quite well in the evaluation of arguments. The subsequent blog post is about several issues in the vaccine debate. So, what are my medical credentials you ask? Well, I'm not a doctor, but I did play one for over 2 years with Chippendales. If that doesn't convince you of my bonifides, I don't know what will. Without further ado...
Issue 1: Government "Protection" of Vaccine Producers
My good friend Nima posted the following article on his facebook page with a subject line that he knew would bate me (we do this to each other....it's fun!)
Besides the fact that this article is poorly written with grammatical errors and missing words (see ad hominem attack) there are so many factual fabrications it reads like fox news (see "ad hominem" again!). Basically I'm having a hard time deciding where to begin. Lets try this. I'll summarize the article, point out the main errors, then give some examples of dishonesty in the article.
The main points of the articles are as follows: 1. Vaccine producers are protected from civil liability should a vaccine cause injury, 2. a) 'mericans are legally compelled to be vaccinated by government b) and that's a violation of FREEDOM! (chant USA! USA! USA!) 3. Vaccines are baaaaad.
Vaccine Producers are Protected from Civil Liability
First of all the way this claim is made is disingenuous. Thoughout the article the claim is made that there is "no liability" and "no accountability" for vaccine producers. The tacit implication that it is very difficult if not impossible for victims of vaccine side effects to receive compensation. I commend the writer for not outright lying but his account is misleading. Here are the actual facts:
1. In 1986 the US government set up the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVI) to provide no-fault compensation to those claiming to be victims of vaccines. So, children suffering from what may be side effects of vaccines have an avenue by which they can receive compensation. The threshold for a successful claim to demonstrate a causal link is very weak and the effects need only manifest themselves within a reasonable time frame after the injection. It is important to note that the causal link between most vaccines and the purported side effects is weak at best.
In many cases, for compensation to be awarded there need only be a temporal causal link between symptoms and vaccination, not physiological or biochemical. Basically just because event B occurred after event A does not mean that event A caused event B. I will get into the science of that later. With the NCVI Children are provided medical, rehabilitation, counselling, and educational expenses in the case of a successful claim.
Assessment: While it is true that vaccine producers are protected from civil liability, it is not true that victims have no recourse for compensation. In defence of the article writer, they never outright say this but any uninformed person reading the article could easily draw this conclusion.
So how did this whole ruling come about? Well, basically there was a case in which a family from Pennsylvania went to the NCVI claims committee looking for compensation and didn't get it. The condition--residual seizure disorder--which afflicted the daughter had been removed from the schedule of approved reactions that qualify for compensation . In other words, there was no evidence indicating or plausible mechanism for a causal link between the vaccine and that particular condition. Despite this, the plaintiff argued that the vaccine company had knowledge of a safer vaccine and if they had distributed the newer vaccine their daughter would not have had the reaction. The family did not accept the ruling of the NCVI and eventually their case made it to the supreme court.
In order to understand the supreme court ruling we need to look at the wording of the key passage in the 1986 NCVI law:
No vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.
The two keys to the case are the phrase "side effects that were unavoidable" and "the vaccine...was accompanied by proper directions and warnings". Lets look first at the later. Before a child gets any vaccine it is the law that the parents read and sign a vaccine information statement (VIS):
A VIS must be given with every vaccination, including each dose in a multi-dose series. Each VIS contains a brief description of the disease, as well as the risks and benefits of the vaccine. Each VIS is developed by the CDC and distributed to state and local health departments as well as individual providers.(my italics, thank you wikipedia)
The judges ruled that despite this, the informed consent that was for the vaccine at hand, not another version of the vaccine. Also, despite what the National Vaccine Information Centre NVIC article states, there are state laws that allow for abstention from taking vaccines.
In 1982 NBC produced an "expose" of alleged DTP vaccine related injuries. This began the first major anti-vaccination movement and proliferation of misinformation.
While in 1979 there was only 1 DTP-related lawsuit, by 1986 there were 255, with a total of over $3 billion sought by claimants. This clearly was not sustainable for the vaccine industry, and in fact manufacturers went out of business. In 1967 there were 26 US manufacturers of vaccines. By 1980 this number had dropped to 15, and by 1986 there were only 3 companies still making vaccines in this country. Vaccine prices skyrocketed, and manufacturers found it difficult to obtain liability insurance.
Basically, the sheer legal costs of defending claims made doing business prohibitive. The alternative was for pharmaceutical companies to stop producing vaccines. I know if I were selling vaccines in that environment I'd close my doors too and stick to selling aspirin. What rational business person wouldn't? So, it seems that the CDC and related government agencies were faced with a decision: offer some protection to vaccine producers, or eliminate the vaccine program all together.