By Louis Conte
US Representative Darrell Issa, one of the most powerful men in the country, a man who can call cabinet secretaries in for hours of interrogation in front of the Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee has been forced to table a hearing on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). What kind of pressure might have caused Issa to make this choice? We don’t know for sure, but there is one obvious candidate.
Working through their not-for profit pro-vaccine advocacy allies, pharma exerted enormous influence and likely created the pressure (either direct or indirect) that forced Congressman Issa to pull the plug. Every Child By Two and Voices for Vaccines, two organizations with strong drug industry ties, slammed all the buttons and, as usual, threatened to lay any “vaccine preventable deaths” at Congressman Issa’s doorstep. Pharma used fear because they were afraid. What is it that drug industry supporters are so afraid of?
What the NVICP really knows about autism is terrifying to people like Paul Offit, Dorit Reiss and Amy Pisani. These folks can spout the decisions of the Special Masters in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings (OAP) all they want. It won’t do anything to cover up the truth about what doctors like Geoffrey Evans and Vito Casserta in the Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation already knew years ago; sometimes vaccines tragically cause brain injury - an encephalopathy. A consequence of that injury, what the program calls a sequela, often includes the behavioral disorder known as autism.
The people in the NVICP know this to be true. A recent paper I co-authored, Unanswered Questions From the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury (Holland, Conte, Krakow, Colin, ), documented this clearly. While not getting access to the vast majority of the 1,300+ cases compensated for brain damage, we still found 83 cases where the vaccine injury included autism. This would have been very difficult to explain – or deny – under oath.
Since publication of Unanswered Questions, more compensated cases have emerged (US Court of Claims, Case Number: 06-227V) and more families have stepped forward with the same pattern of vaccine injury – encephalopathy featuring autism. It would have been really awkward for those in the program to explain why twenty-five years of these kinds of cases had nothing to do with the rulings in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings. Rolf Hazelhurst’s statement at a recent Congressional Briefing about the curious behavior of government officials involved in the OAP must really have raised anxiety in the Office of the Special Masters and the Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation.
The sad truth is that all of the petitioners who filed claims that ended up being dismissed under the Omnibus Autism Proceedings were victims of the same injustice that was visited upon the OAP test case families. There are 5,000 OAP cases that may be like Michele Cedillo and Yates Hazelhurst. And there are thousands and thousands more who never had a chance to file in the NVICP. People denied justice because of a label, such as “autism”, are the victims of discrimination. And discrimination, even in the name of protecting public health policy, is still discrimination.
This is why Darrell Issa needed to drag people from the NVICP in front of a room full of mystified US Representatives and disgusted families.
The staffers that said that the hearing was postponed because it this issue is so divisive were right. The hearing on the NVICP would have re-ignited the vaccine injury – autism controversy right smack in the middle of a Congress already beset with conflicts. Taking on the powerful pharmaceutical industry AND the federal public health establishment would be a daunting task.
But the autism problem won’t go away. It is certainly reasonable to believe that the passage of the 1986 Vaccine Act that started the NVICP also triggered the autism epidemic. Autism and the NVICP are intertwined and the program will never be viable until it opens the books and finally discloses the truth of vaccine injury.
The NVICP has wandered far away from what Congress intended it to be. It is a legal netherworld where truth is concealed and precedent set only when it suits the interests of the industry it protects. To say that the program no longer functions the way Congress intended actually glosses over the fact that the program no longer functions at all. Petitioners and their expert witnesses are regularly abused. Attorneys working for petitioners have just about given up trying to file cases for vaccine injured children because the program has become unworkable.
Press releases from the pharma-funded not-for-profits noted that the NVICP had compensated some vaccine injury victims. I know some of the families who managed to achieve compensation for their children. Hardly any feel that the program is fair. Ed and Joyce Alger’s son Danny was compensated in the early years of the program for a DPT injury. Danny suffered encephalopathy, autism and seizures. A few years ago, Danny, now in his thirties, suffered a fall and was partially paralyzed. He returned home from the hospital a few days ago after a bout of pneumonia.
Danny Alger has suffered more for the greater good and the miracle of vaccines than any human being should. His life has not been what it should have been.
The money from Danny’s settlement ran out years ago. Ed and Joyce still care for Danny at home. Ed’s a Vietnam Veteran, battling his own health issues but always calls me to see how I’m doing and how my sons are. Joyce, always brave and honest, sends me inspirational emails.
Ed told me the other day that he has high hopes for the hearing and that he loves Darrell Issa. “The guy has balls and will ask tough questions.”
Congressman Issa, please reschedule the hearing on the NVICP as soon as possible. The cowards who hide behind this program will issue press releases calling you anti-vaccine. They will accuse you of listening to “fringe elements” and criticize you for questioning their version of “science”. You will make powerful people angry but you may force us to re-examine our public health policies.
It will be divisive. Because revealing an unjust status quo often is.
But it may finally allow two good people to look in their son’s eyes with some peace.
Your call, Congressman.
Louis Conte, is the father of triplet boys, two with autism. He has thirty years of law enforcement and investigatory experience.
Mr. Conte is not a petitioner in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
Mr. Conte is a co-author of Unanswered Questions From the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury (Holland, Conte, Krakow, Colin,). He is an EBCALA and Autism Action Network board member.