Managing Editor's Note: We ran this post in October of 2008. We're running it today as background about the 1986 law that is being challenged in the Supreme Court (see HERE.)
By J.B. Handley
Almost 22 years ago, on October 20, 1986, the Los Angeles Times ran a story regarding a controversial bill making its way through Congress, the headline shouted:
REAGAN LIKELY TO VETO VACCINE COMPENSATION BILL
The story went on to explain the highly divisive nature of the bill, intended to shield vaccine makers from liability, and the Reagan administration was speaking out to express their opposition:
In a strongly worded letter to House Speaker Tip O'Neil, the then secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Otis R. Bowen said, "The bill is likely to do little to assure the vaccine supply or to improve our childhood immunization efforts."
Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton, writing to the Head of the House Judiciary Committee on behalf of the Department of Justice, said the White House opposed the legislation because it was creating, "a major new entitlement program for which no legitimate need has been demonstrated."
Ronald Reagan himself was troubled by the vaccine compensation bill and was quoted as saying, "Although the goal of compensating those persons is a worthy one, the program has…serious deficiencies."
The Reagan administration seemed to be particularly concerned with two issues: who was going to pay for the compensation required for vaccine injury, and the precedent of the federal government indemnifying private companies from liability.
The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act was actually part of a larger bill, the Omnibus Health Bill (S. 1744), that was introduced in the waning days of the 99th Congress in late 1986. Leading a four-year effort to pass the controversial legislation on vaccine liability was a Congressman from the 30th District of California, Henry Waxman. Waxman's bill was supported by vaccine manufacturers, who were lobbying very hard on its behalf, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
To be fair, like many pieces of legislation, the bill had some reasonable intentions. The old DPT shot's rate of damage to children was skyrocketing, lawsuits were mounting, and vaccine makers were headed for the exits. And, the bill proposed the establishment of VAERS -- today's Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System -- which beat the hell out of the non-existent system in place at the time.
In the waning days of the 99th Congress, the bill's passage was up in the air, with the White House declaring plans to veto the entire Omnibus package, due almost exclusively to the provisions in the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. Congressman Waxman, the bill's author, was unyielding, and worked the press to his advantage in the final days declaring:
"This bill is the first step to taking care of children hurt in the process of protecting society from epidemics and to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines. If the President vetoes it, he will leave these children to fend for themselves and leave the country with risks or shortages or skyrocketing prices. If he vetoes it, I hope he has some emergency plans to start making vaccines himself because the manufacturers tell us they may very well stop."
And, with the final threat of losing the entire manufacturing base of vaccine makers coming from Henry Waxman and the AAP, Ronald Reagan made the bill law on November 15, 1986 "with mixed feelings."
I really don't believe Henry Waxman had any idea what a monster he had actually unleashed with the passage of this 1986 bill. Reading the newspaper articles discussing the bill before it passed, I was struck by the complete absence of one idea from any of the people or organizations advocating for its passing: the need to create a supportive environment for producing NEW vaccines.
Not once, in any of the dozens of articles I read on the bill, did anyone even hint that our kids were in trouble unless many more vaccines were introduced. Waxman and others were focused solely on keeping the handful of vaccines we did have from disappearing -- the bill’s purpose was to save the existing vaccine program, not create a foundation for tripling the number of shots given to our kids.
I found a 1986 article from a Texas newspaper, the Mainland Extra, to be particularly revealing. In reminding its readers why vaccines were important, the Mainland explained that children in Texas needed to have three shots: DPT, MMR, and Polio, between the ages of 5 and 12. Shots before Age 5? Not even part of the agenda – just make sure your kids have them before kindergarten. (Who knew that only six years later, the CDC would be pushing to give Hep B on Day 1 of life!)
So, let's pause and think about this again:
The 1986 law was really enacted to save the existing vaccine program from collapsing.
At the time, the CDC's official schedule included 10 total vaccines that children were recommended to receive by the age of 5.
But, as the Texas article revealed (and the shot records of most kids born in the early 80s would corroborate) children were vaccinated with less regularity, when they were much older, and with even fewer vaccines than the recommended schedule.
Not one proponent of the bill advocated a need to motivate manufacturers to create NEW vaccines or ever cited anywhere that we were experiencing an epidemic of diseases for which we did not yet have vaccines – this notion had nothing to do with why the bill was passed.
And yet, as we all know, the passing of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986 was a watershed moment for the vaccine industry, unleashing two decades of escalating vaccine mandates, culminating in the bloated, 36 shot schedule we have today for kids under 5. The act sheltered vaccine companies, and they turned their R&D budgets back on, figured out how to ensure they bought the bureaucrats who decided which vaccines are added to the schedule through the ACIP, turned vaccine development into a profit growth engine, and the rest is history.
I believe that we won’t end the autism epidemic until we reform the vaccine schedule. While our enemies try to label us as “antivaccine,” the truth is that most of us are looking for moderation and a higher standard of caution in how and when vaccines are administered.
When you mention to a public health official the idea of reducing today’s vaccine schedule to a shorter list, like the one we used to give in the 1980s, they immediately kick into their pre-recorded lecture about the return of deadly disease, etc., etc. And yet, a close look at history, the history before vaccine manufacturers were indemnified, shows a very different truth.
In the early 1980s, with only 10 vaccines on our schedule, deadly diseases had been dealt with. There were no frightening childhood disease epidemics scaring parents and wreaking havoc on our kids. And, during the very time when the fate of the entire vaccine program potentially hung in the balance because of the liability produced from DPT, NO ONE WAS ADVOCATING THE NEED FOR MORE VACCINES.
Oh, and the autism rate was 1 in 10,000, rather than the soon to be 1 in 100 we are seeing today.
One other thing that didn’t appear in any of the articles discussing the vaccine program in 1986? The word “autism”. No one had any clue what is was back then.
Let’s go back to the vaccine schedule before 1986, and watch the autism rate plummet. You can prevent deadly disease while preventing autism, will a politician ever have the guts to try?
J.B. Handley is co-founder of Generation Rescue and a contributor to Age of Autism.