Why are there parents out there, struggling with this issue every day, wondering if there really is a connection? Why are there parents, myself included, who are spacing and delaying immunizations when a child starts reacting to them? If these things are so harmless, why do we still doubt?
I'll tell you why.
It's because something is causing it. Something is taking the brains of these children and changing them. Something that wasn't happening very often thirty years ago is happening with increasing and increasing frequency today, and parents are rightfully suspicious.
If we are to believe, as we are told repeatedly, that all vaccines are safe, then why did the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recently award two families of children with autism monetary damages?
How the Government Handles Vaccine Injuries in General
The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was established in 1986 to compensate families for injuries resulting from vaccines, to shield the manufacturers from liability for defects, and to keep these cases out of the traditional court system. It is a no-fault system, meaning that the parents who assert these cases on behalf of their children must show that specifically recognized injuries occurred within the time frames acknowledges by their guidelines. Those injuries, if sufficiently demonstrated, are assumed to be caused by the vaccine. The injuries recognized are referred to as table injuries. Claimants are eligible for medical and legal expenses, loss of future earning potential, pain and suffering up to $250,000 and a death benefit of up to $250,000. The program is funded by an excise tax on all vaccines administered.
It is administered through the Office of Special Masters through the United States Court of Federal Claims. By and large, vaccine injury cases are not permitted in the ordinary court system without special circumstances.
The VICP was created in direct response to safety concerns over the DTP. Manufacturers were being sued and juries were awarding large amounts of money to plaintiffs. Many manufacturers ceased production of the vaccines because of the threat of litigation, and the government stepped in for a few reasons. One, they did not want the manufacturers to stop making the vaccines. Two, the findings of fault were tenuous in many of the cases. Three, parents were afraid to immunize their children, and the government was afraid that the effect of herd immunity would cease to occur. Essentially, this means that in order for most people in the population to be protected, enough people within it have to be immunized, and the government was afraid we would fall below that threshold.
In this case, the parents of Ryan Mojabi alleged that his Autism Spectrum Diagnosis (ASD) was a result of injury from his immunizations, primarily the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Specifically, they claimed that he suffered encephalopathy which consequently resulted in his ASD diagnosis.
Notably, encephalopathy is a compensable table injury in the VICP.
Mojabi was immunized with the MMR and a few other shots just before his second birthday. He was diagnosed with encephalitis within 15 days of the vaccination. His symptoms also included difficulty breathing, a high fever, febrile seizures, lethargy and rash. After he recovered from the persistent high fever, his parents noticed changes to his behavior, and a backslide in his development. He stopped using words that he had been using before.
His parents alleged that the cumulative effect of the vaccines, and that MMR shot in particular, led to brain injury resulting in his ASD diagnosis. The Department of Health and Human Services finally conceded and his family was awarded almost $1,000,000 in damages for lost wages and pain and suffering, with potentially millions more in annuities to cover the cost of his care for the rest of his life.
The specific exhibits that led to the concession are under seal, and the government made no admission of a connection between the vaccine and his ASD diagnosis. The full text of the decision is available through the link here.
Emily's struggles began shortly after she received several vaccinations at her 15 month appointment. She spiked a very high fever, developed a rash, started having seizures and began engaging in repetitive actions such as arm flapping. Over the following years, she was found to have encephalopathy, speech delays, developmental delays. Her mother filed in 2003 for an encephalopathy injury under the VICP for those injuries, prior to her daughter being diagnosed with ASD.
The case dragged on for years. After Emily was formally diagnosed with ASD, the government agreed to settle. She received over $1,000,000 in damages, plus annuities to cover the cost of her care for the rest of her life. The HHS refused to admit a link between the vaccines and her injuries, instead claiming they were tired of dedicating resources to the fight. The text of this decision is also available as a pdf through this link.
The Implications of These Decisions
Obviously, these cases say that, at least in the eyes of the court, injuries to children who develop ASD are compensable under the VICP. Though there was no connection admitted, no formal acknowledgement of a link, the government is paying these families millions of dollars because of the damage the vaccines did to these children.
In Lowrie's case, her mother fought for almost a decade. She was badgered on the stand, accused of being a bad mother and more.
What do these cases mean for the approximately 1 in 110 kids who are diagnosed with ASD? Does this mean that those children, if their symptoms began shortly after they received their vaccines, are then also eligible to receive compensation under the VICP? Does it mean that their injuries were possibly preventable? Does it mean that vaccines are not safe? Does it mean that parents are rolling the dice every time their kids receive shots, hoping they are the 109, not the 1?
If this means that ASD is now a compensable injury, the VICP will rapidly go broke. The VICP is designed to compensate the very rare side effects, the episodic side effects, not the life long damages that were awarded in these cases.
My Personal Theory on the Connection
This is my personal opinion, based on years of medical research. I am not a scientist. I did, however, learn a long time ago to question the results of any study that comes out. I have studied in public health and law, worked in risk management in hospitals. The vast majority of medical research in this country is funded by factions with a vested interest in the outcome. It's my belief that we need to strongly fund objective, unaffiliated research into this area, for the sake of the children and families dealing with these diagnoses.
I believe that the connection is more complicated that most assume. I believe that ASD is essentially an autoimmune condition brought on by a perfect storm in the children it affects. I believe that these kids have some underlying, undiscovered issues that somehow make them vulnerable, and that triggered at the right time, their nervous systems overreact.
When we are immunizing children these days, they are getting several vaccines at once. The way vaccines work is essentially to challenge their immune system to build up a response to that disease. We are injecting them with several at a time, and I think that what happens is that the immune systems of some children get overloaded, then overreact, triggering changes in their neurological systems.
It's not the vaccines themselves, per se, but how they trigger reactions in the bodies of these kids. The trouble is, as parents, we don't know if our children are vulnerable until it's too late and the changes have occurred. It's entirely possible that the toxins in our environment (and in the vaccines themselves) are contributors. Without adequate research, there is no way to know for sure.
My youngest has had trouble with vaccines. He also seems to be on the path towards Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease. We have elected to space and delay his vaccines, skip some entirely. I know that his immune system can't handle too much.
Again, this is my personal theory, and I would love nothing more than to see research into this specific area...but I'm not independently wealthy and can't fund it.
Why This is Important
This is important because of conversations like the one I had with a dear friend a few days ago. Often at a loss of how to help her children, she finds herself frustrated with a medical system that doesn't understand her kids. They treat symptoms the best they can, but that's all they can do. Therapy and IEPs and all the worry in the world haven't changed the fact that sometimes her boys don't know how to cope with the world they live in. As a parent, she is tired. She is overwhelmed. She is worried. For their present and their future. For herself.
And she isn't alone. There are thousands, maybe millions of families figuring out how to navigate the world when a child (or children) is diagnosed with ASD. These children are smart, they are kind, they are our babies, and they need us.
I hope that these cases will prompt our medical society, and our society in general to dig deeper. To find out how we can help these children. How we can help these families. If this is something that can be prevented, we need to know that, and we need to accept that seeking prevention doesn't detract in any way from the reality of those who are already there.
It kills me to see the debates on this issue turn nasty and mean. I hate hearing my friend tell me that she has blamed herself, questioned what she could have done differently. I cringe at the irresponsibility of the media when they report on any story that carries a connection with ASD, too often laying blame at the feet of mothers who have only ever done the best they can to care for their children. What we need is a discussion about this, not an argument. We need compassion and new ideas. We need to stop pointing fingers and start finding answers.
Maybe, just maybe, these cases will be the urging force behind that.
The unyielding optimist in me hopes so.