By Anne Dachel
On Tuesday, August 23, 2011, HDNet World Report broadcast the segment, “Vaccines and Autism: Mixed Signals.” (Download the episode from iTunes HERE.) The report was about a half hour in length and it covered the topic in a thorough and balanced manner. As many of us are veterans of years of watching media coverage of the vaccine-autism controversy, I’m sure we’d all agree that this program was exceptional.
Many of the people included in the story are familiar names to people in the autism community: Michelle Cedillo, Kimberly Sue Leteure, Mary Holland, Becky Estepp, and Louis Conte. The focus was a study published this past May that showed that dozens of families who’ve been compensated for vaccine injuries have children who have autism.
Louis Conte: "What we did was we looked at the cases of individuals who were compensated for encephalopathy and for seizure disorder and we asked another question, does your child also have autism. And in a surprising number of a handful of interviews, ... the answers came back yes."
We were told about the similarities between encephalopathy (brain injury) and autism and about the children whose vaccines injuries were compensated and about children with the same injuries who didn’t receive compensation. The stunning truth is that back at the beginning of the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, in the 1980s, if your child was injured by vaccines and had symptoms of autism, chances were good that the injury would be recognized as vaccine related. By the 1990s, as the number of required vaccines had increased dramatically along with the claims of vaccine damage, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program tended to reject the claim.
World Report showed us the personal stories of vaccine injury victims. It was very hard to watch Michelle Cedillo and Kimberly Sue Leteure and ignore the possibility that vaccines are responsible for the severe disabilities both of these girl endure. They were both born healthy and suddenly and dramatically regressed following routine vaccinations. Kimberly Sue won her case in the Vaccine Program and Michelle Cedillo lost.”
These arbitrary vaccine injury judgments should have us all concerned. If vaccines aren’t responsible for Michelle’s disabilities, what is to blame?
“Michelle was one of those test cases. And the government used 17 expert witnesses to argue against her claim of a vaccine injury, none of them actually having examined her. And in the end, although Kimberly Leteure had won a similar claim a few years earlier, the goalposts seemed to have moved. Michelle, along with each of the other test cases, lost, which basically killed the claims of 5,000 autistic children and every claim since. So if you happened to be born in the 1980s, you were compensated. If you were born after that, you weren't.”
As Mary Holland said, “I think the key difference between those who are compensated and those who are not, is the A word.”
Louis Conte agreed, “If a child from 15 years ago could get compensated for encephalopathy, but they also had autism, how come a child today who has autism, clearly encephalopathy and other features as well, just because they have the word autism associated with their case, does that mean they're not to be considered? Or is this really a matter of public policy because we have an increase in autism?"
Becky Estepp’s son Eric was featured. He too started out as a normal baby boy and was badly impacted repeatedly by his vaccinations resulting ultimately in autism. And like Michelle Cedillo, he lost in the Vaccine Program.
World Report pointed out a number of things that are rarely mentioned in stories about vaccines and autism. We learned about the thousands of vaccine-autism claims that have been thrown out of the Vaccine Program as a result of the six test cases that lost. And what was most revealing in this report was the absence of any government official who was willing to appear in the story to explain the decisions of the Vaccine Program or to defend the government’s position on the vaccine-autism controversy.
“We wanted to interview officials in Washington who would offer the best arguments against the supposition that vaccines can cause autism, but no one would talk. We asked repeatedly to interview someone from the Department of Justice which argued against the families making claims. Our requests were rejected with the response, ‘The court's opinion speaks for itself.’
“We also tried to interview any of the arbitrators from the Vaccine Court who are called special masters, some of whom had mocked the parents as ‘victims of bad science’ with ‘reconstructed memories’ and the doctors who supported them as guilty of ‘gross medial misjudgment.’ None could do it.
“We worked with the FDA to get an on the record interview. They declined.
“And we tried to repeatedly to interview someone, anyone, from the Department of Health and Human Services which administers the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund, including Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The Secretary was quoted last year in Reader's Digest saying of those who argue that there's a link between vaccines and autism, ‘We have reached out to media outlets to try to get them to not give the views of these people equal weight in their reporting.’ When we asked her agency last week whether she had really said that, they responded, ‘No one here can remember or determine that this quote is factual.’”
There were legitimate questions raised in this report. This is an issue affecting millions of American families. It is outrageous to learn that no government official was willing to speak publicly and address this controversy.
Even more concerning was this brief comment:
“Even a member of the government's Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines told us research on vaccine safety remains flawed and incomplete.”
Parents have a lot to worry about. If someone working in the vaccine program admits that the science isn’t in on vaccine safety, what are we doing to our children?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism. You can subscribe to her newletter at www.annedachel.com.