The Canary Party and Rob Schneider versus the Vaccine Court: Guess who wins?

My goodness, when it rains, it pours, to use a cliche. (And I’m not about anything if not throwing in the odd cliche in my writing from time to time.)

Just yesterday, I discussed the resurrection of an antivaccine zombie meme, namely the claim that Maurice Hilleman admitted that the polio vaccine that was contaminated with SV40 in the early years of the polio vaccine causes human cancer and that the polio vaccine also brought AIDS into the US. That came hot on the heels of another antivaccine zombie meme three weeks ago, specifically the claim that Diane Harper, one of the main clinical trialists involved in testing the efficacy and safety of the HPV vaccine, had an attack of conscience and “admitted that the vaccine was dangerous.” She didn’t. Then, yesterday morning, I was perusing my usual quack newsfeeds, which I monitor regularly to know what’s hot and what’s not in the quackosphere, thus providing me with a heads-up for new quackery and providing me with copious (sometimes overwhelming) blog fodder, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a third antivaccine zombie meme. Actually, maybe it’s not a zombie meme because it never really dies. It just keeps getting repeated and repeated and repeated by antivaccine loons without ever “dying” for a while to be resurrected.

I’m referring to broadsides directed against the Vaccine Court and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). This time around, the antivaccine quack attack against the NVICP was right there on the front page of the biggest, baddest quack website of all (well, at least one of the two biggest, baddest quack websites of all), it came in the form of an article with an accompanying video from some old “friends” of ours. I’m referring, of course to The Canary Party. It’s even narrated by the most recent celebrity to let his antivaccine freak flag fly in an incredibly brain dead fashion, namely Rob Schneider. Basically, it’s Mike Adams ranting and asking Do vaccines cause autism? Must-see new video reveals the systematic suppression of evidence of vaccine-damaged children:

Truly, a font of burning stupid doth flow most egregiously from YouTube. (Sorry, I’ve been reading my old Thor comics. I’ll stop. Unfortunately, the napalm grade stupid from Rob Schneider won’t stop flowing.) Of course, you know right away that The Canary Party has an opinion of itself much higher than is warranted by any reasonable criteria when it advertises this video as a “viral video.” When I wrote this last night, it had been viewed 15,763 times, which is not too shabby but hardly “viral.”

The video starts out asking the question, “Do vaccines cause autism?” If the makers of the video had any knowledge of science, evidence, and reasoning, they’d just answer now and end the video, but we’re talking about antivaccinationists here. So naturally they just blather on and on. The first part of the video is so standard-issue that it’s not worth much discussion. It’s basically nothing but the typical confusion between correlation and causation, with Schneider claiming that the childhood vaccine schedule has tripled over the last thirty years “while the U.S. autism rate has skyrocketed.” Of course, the U.S. autism rate didn’t start “skyrocketing” until the early to mid-1990s, which is only around 20 years ago; so even then The Canary Party’s correlation isn’t so tight. Neither is it’s understanding of evidence, as Schneider intones that “dozens” of studies have shown that vaccines and autism are linked. I suppose if you say they’re linked in that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism greater than one would expect to find through random chance alone, he might have a point, but if he means that vaccines and autism area actually correlated in a way that suggests causality, not so much. Schneider also neglects to mention that the studies that do link vaccines to autism are uniformly crappy and have been discredited. Indeed, the list of studies published on The Canary Party website is truly amusing if you happen to be someone (like me) who’s been paying attention to antivaccine claims for several years now. Indeed, I’ve blogged about quite a few of these studies. A lot of them don’t show what The Canary Party thinks they show, as a brief perusal of the abstracts makes plain to someone with some scientific and medical knowledge.

None of that stops him from intoning that the “debate rages on.” It’s more like, “The manufactroversy rages on. But why does it rage on? Is it because there’s a real scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism? Of course not. There isn’t. They don’t, as far as large epidemiological studies have been able to tell. There isn’t a whiff of a hint of a correlation between vaccines and autism. So maybe the “debate rages on” because emerging science is starting to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that vaccines do not cause autism. Nope again. Oh, sure, that’s what antivaccinationists would like you to think, but in reality every decent study that comes out once again fails to find a link, thus strengthening, not weakening, the scientific consensus. No, to The Canary Party, the “debate rages on” because of the Vaccine Court.

Facepalm. Double take. Jaw drop.

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

According to The Canary Party, the whole reason the “debate rages on” is because the nefarious government created passed the nefarious National Child Vaccine Injury Act in 1986 creating the NVICP and the Vaccine Court, both of which are, of course, pure evil (at least to antivaccinationists). Passed by the evil big pharma (excuse me, in response to the lobbying of the evil big pharma), the act is apparently all that’s standing in the way of legions upon legions of parents of “vaccine-injured” children from achieving a measure of justice (not to mention compensation). Yes, back in 1986, if The Canary Party is to be believed, big pharma paid off the government to create a program to compensate the vaccine injured.

History tells a different tale, of course. In reality, thanks to a flood of lawsuits in response to the DTP vaccine, which contained the whole cell pertussis vaccine as one of its components, vaccine manufacturers were at risk. At the time, a 1982 TV news report Vaccine Roulette implicated the whole cell pertussis vaccine as causing permanent brain injury. It turns out that it almost certainly doesn’t. Unfortunately, it took 15-20 years for studies exonerating the vaccine to be published showing that, although the whole cell pertussis vaccine was associated with febrile seizures, it is not associated with long term adverse neurological consequences. Of course, in 1986, this hadn’t been worked out yet, and there were enough anecdotal reports that authorities were concerned. So was the government. There was a real fear that the vaccine program would collapse because no manufacturer would make vaccines anymore.

So the government acted. Unlike what Schneider claims in The Canary Party video, it didn’t act to shut down lawsuits, but rather acted to try to compensate legitimate vaccine injuries quickly and fairly by creating a no-fault system to do so. So, while Schneider is trotting out the trope that the government knew that vaccines were “unavoidably unsafe” (which is a distortion of a recent Supreme Court ruling) and painting the Vaccine Court a grand conspiracy to protect vaccine manufacturers from liability, in reality it was a plan to save the vaccine program. It requires:

In addition to establishing the VICP, the Childhood Vaccine Injury Act requires that vaccination records be included in a patient’s permanent medical record and that they include the following:
date of vaccine administration
vaccine manufacturer and lot number
name, address, and title of the healthcare provider
The act also requires that doctors report all adverse events occurring within 30 days of vaccination to the VAERS. About 12,000 vaccine-related adverse reactions are reported annually; however, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of doctors file such reports.

That’s a rather funny requirement for the government to make if it’s trying to cover up vaccine injuries.

Schneider discusses the fictional case of a child with “vaccine-induced autism” and intones that, had the child been injured by a pharmaceutical product his parents could sue the manufacturer:

To see how this tilted the law in big pharma’s favor, let’s look at Eric, a child suffering from vaccine-induced autism.

Had Eric been harmed by a pharmaceutical product other than vaccines, his parents could sue the manufacturer in civil court, entitling them to the standard legal process with a judge, jury, private attorneys, legal precedent and discovery, all within public view.
But for kids like Eric, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act says NO.

Instead of suing the pharmaceutical company directly, parents of children like Eric are forced to “petition” the Department of Health and Human Services and, if federal health officials oppose compensation, the case is argued before a special master in the U.S. Claims Court. Many refer to this as “vaccine court”—though it isn’t a court at all, but rather an “administrative procedure” in which the family asks the government to admit the vaccine caused their child harm, and requests compensation for the child’s care.

Nonsense. It’s true that the NCVIA requires that parents who think their child has been injured by vaccines to go first to the Vaccine Court. However, that’s not a bad thing compared to going to regular court. In the case of regular court, the parents would have to pay for a lawyer or find a lawyer who would take their case on a contingency basis. If they lose, they’d get nothing. In the case of the Vaccine Court, if they lose their lawyers get paid. Indeed, there’s a veritable cottage industry that’s sprung up around the vaccine court of lawyers who bring cases before it. It might not be as much money as one can get suing in regular civil courts, but it’s guaranteed cash, win or lose. Lawyers don’t mind that at all. Some have racked up some impressive bills.

Even better, in the Vaccine Court, the rules of evidence are a bit more lax. The Daubert standard isn’t always enforced. “Expert witnesses” whose testimony would likely not be permitted in normal court can testify in Vaccine Court. Moreover, there are injuries for which compensation is mandated. In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that an award should be granted to a petitioner in the Vaccine Court if the petitioner either establishes that a “Table Injury” of injuries that are generally accepted as potentially being caused by vaccines) occurred or proves “causation in fact” by proving the following three prongs:

  • a medical hypothesis causally connecting the vaccination and the injury;
  • a logical sequence of cause and effect showing that the vaccination was the reason for the injury; and
  • a showing of a proximate temporal relationship between vaccination and injury.

Compensation is virtually automatic for so-called “table injuries” (i.e., known injuries that science attributed to vaccines listed on the Vaccine Injury Table) within the correct time frame. Also, compensation can be awarded if plaintiffs can meet a standard of evidence showing a 51% or greater chance that the plaintiff was injured by the vaccine in question; i.e., the same burden of proof that they would face in standard court, only without the benefit of all the extra features favoring the complainant in the Vaccine Court. Finally, if the complainants lose in Vaccine Court, they can still sue in federal court. Basically, victims may still file a civil suit given the following:

  • The VICP petition is dismissed or ruled non-compensable.
  • The VICP compensation offer is rejected by the claimant.
  • The vaccine is not covered by VICP.

Of course, the real reason that antivaccinationists hate the Vaccine Court so much is not so much because it’s so unfair to them. It isn’t, no matter how much they paint it so. Indeed, the government basically bends over backwards to be fair. The real reason antivaccinationists hate the Vaccine Court is because autism is not recognized as a “table injury.” Parents trying to obtain compensation for “vaccine-induced autism” generally lose because there is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. The Autism Omnibus decision pretty much shut that door. None of this stops The Canary Party from claiming:

Legal precedent is limited, so the program issues contradictory rulings. In the case of Bailey Banks, a special master ruled the boy’s autism was “caused-in-fact” by the MMR vaccine. Yet in later cases, special masters ruled that vaccines do not cause autism, even though federal compensation has been awarded in at least 83 cases with autism.

Uh, no. This is a lie. What Schneider is referring to is this study by antivaccine lawyers that claimed that the Vaccine Court compensated children for vaccine-induced autism. They didn’t. The study was also arguably profoundly unethical.

Antivaccinationists also don’t like the cap on compensation and think they can win big in federal courts, which they just might if they get a sympathetic jury and a judge who lets the quacks and cranks testify. As you might gather from the video, antivaccinationists also don’t like the fact that they can’t face pharmaceutical companies directly, although it’s not true that the companies don’t pay. (Pharmaceutical companies do pay for the Vaccine Court through an excise tax on each vaccine dose administered.) Antivaccinationists also don’t like the lack of an opportunity to go on fishing expeditions in pharmaceutical company records during discovery. Heck, The Canary Party video basically says that, although Schneider doesn’t use those words.

There’s no doubt that children injured by vaccines deserve compensation. They deserve compensation that is reasonably fast, fair, not unduly burdensome, and adequate to take care of their needs. Through the vaccine court, most real cases of vaccine-induced injury get that. Autism, however, is not a “vaccine-induced” injury, efforts of antivaccinationists to make deceptive arguments otherwise notwithstanding. The science is quite clear on that. As long as antivaccinationists cling to the belief that vaccines cause autism, they will continue to attack the Vaccine Court. What’s really hilarious and ironic about this is that it was Barbara Loe Fisher, the grande dame of the antivaccine movement, and her co-founders of the antivaccine group National Vaccine Information Center, who joined with the American Academy of Pediatrics to draft the original National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.

That’s right, the NVICP came into being with the help of antivaccine activists. Now they hate it.