No, vaccines almost certainly did not kill Elijah Daniel French

It’s been a long time since I bothered to care if readers know where I live or who I am. That’s why when a newbie troll shows up in the comments, as newbie trolls periodically do, and castigates me for somehow being a “coward” or “hiding” my identity, I generally get a hardy laugh out of it. My retort is usually that my “real” identity is among the worst kept secrets in the skeptical blogosphere. And so it is. If a reader can’t figure out who I am with one or two Google searches, truly he is too dim-witted for me to take seriously. Be that as it may, I now take particular interest in pseudoscience and quackery that take place in my stomping grounds, so to speak, which is why this latest post on a particularly wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery that is not Age of Autism or The Thinking Moms’ Revolution caught my attention.

I’m referring to a post on VacTruth.org entitled Michigan Baby Dies, Pathologists Confirm Vaccines Responsible. It’s a story that takes place in Oakland County, which encompasses suburbs north of Detroit, which places it far closer than I find comfortable. If you want an example of why, whenever antivaccinationists claim it’s not about the vaccines, it’s about the vaccines, look no further. Let’s just say that, contrary to the claim made in the article, the story presented does not in any way demonstrate that vaccines killed Elijah Daniel French, the Michigan baby in the title of the post. As you will see, the story is so unconvincing that even some commenters have a problem believing it. Danny, it turns out, was born on May 4, 2007. The beginning of the story notes that he was always happy and smiling. The story begins with Danny’s birth, followed by incidents in which he developed fever after a number of vaccines.

These incidence culminate in this:

On July 1, 2008, Danny received the MMR, Hib, Varicella, and DTaP vaccines. These eight vaccines were given in four injections.

His mother stated,

“That night, Danny was still eating and drinking but was cranky and slept more than usual.

By the next day, he was extremely fatigued, irritable and had a loss of appetite. He did not have a fever at this time. He was red and warm where they injected him. These symptoms only worsened.

By the third day, Danny was unable to stay awake for longer than thirty minutes, he had zero food intake, his fluid intake diminished and he cried excessively.

Seventy-one hours after his doctor visit, Danny developed a fever from the vaccines and was given Children’s Tylenol. His doctor was called but there was no answer from him because it was the July 4th holiday, the office was closed.

He was given Tylenol at 2:00 PM and was laid down on the floor, on a comforter in the living room, near the wall, where he took a nap. I checked on him while my other children played.

I checked on him at 4:00 PM to see if he felt feverish and he was cool to the touch. I thought he was just cold so I covered him up. He was sleeping, I thought. He didn’t look dead.

It was about forty minutes later when I discovered he was unresponsive and had passed away.

911 was called seventy-five hours post vaccination. The EMS sheet stated four shots were given four days prior. It was actually only 3 days prior that he was vaccinated.

A detective came out briefly and my son was taken to the hospital where he was left. Then his autopsy was to be done and I waited for answers.

I was told my baby most likely died within thirty minutes after he was given the Tylenol, at around 2:30 PM. This was based on lividity, rigor onset, and Tylenol levels in his blood.

I was told, “Oh, vaccines couldn’t have done this,” and I had no reason to question them because they were doctors and doctors don’t lie.

Danny died on July 4, 2008, the day he turned 14 months old, less than three days after he was vaccinated.”

It is always tragic when a young child dies unexpectedly. The coroner’s report on Danny’s autopsy ruled that the cause of death was position/compression asphyxia. Now, Danny was a bit old for this to be sudden infant death syndrome, which is usually defined as taking place in babies under a year old and is most common between two and four months of age. So it’s unclear why Danny might have died so suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s human nature to do so, and Danny’s mother Rachel did the very human thing. Whatever the cause of death parents who endure such a loss naturally seek an explanation. She started looking for something that might have caused this death. That something she found, as is all too frequently the case, turned out to be vaccines.

Not surprisingly, Rachel makes much of the fact that Danny died at age 14 months, which to her means it couldn’t possibly be SIDS. However, although the vast majority of SIDS cases are in infants under six months of age SIDS does sometimes occur in children over one year of age, and it’s not hard to find examples of cases of children even older than Danny who died of SIDS. Unfortunately, the medical examiner, L.J. Dragovic, was ignorant of this aspect of SIDS and told Rachel that Danny was “too old to die from SIDS.” Even worse, because Dragovic chalked the death up to position/compression asphyxia, his lack of clarity in discussing the case with Rachel led her, in essence, to torture herself for a while, wondering if one of her other children had been that “outside force” that asphyxiated Danny. Indeed, Dragovic even suggested as much. No wonder Rachel couldn’t accept the cause of death and started looking for something else! Unfortunately, what she “found” was vaccines:

The serum test performed revealed Danny had a level of 5.5 mg/L of acetaminophen in his blood, which would be from the Tylenol given to him just before he died. The vaccines Danny had just received were not on the report.

Each vaccine contains a large number of ingredients. Vaccines are medical drugs that are injected directly into the body and all of them are associated with life-threatening risks. Vaccines contain heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum that can harm the brain. Metals injected into a person can disrupt their nervous system, helping to shut down the respiratory system.

The vaccines Danny had just received are the most plausible cause of his death. These should have been mentioned on his autopsy report, but they were not. Other parents who have lost their child after vaccination, coming forward, are admitting the same thing, that the vaccines are not being listed on the autopsy.

No, as tragic as Danny’s death was, vaccines are not the most plausible cause of his death. It’s not as though this hasn’t been studied before. Vaccines are not linked with SIDS. Indeed, if anything, vaccines might be protective against SIDS, based on several other studies that find no positive relationship between vaccination and SIDS, considered more than sufficient to consider the likelihood of a link between the two to be as close to zero as science can estimate (1, 2, 3). Indeed, there are even enough studies looking at the relationship between vaccines and SIDS that a meta-analysis could be done. Not surprisingly, this meta-analysis of published SIDS studies agrees and found the relative risk of SIDS in vaccinated babies to be 0.54. So, as much as we might feel sympathetic towards Rachel for her profound loss, we should remember that she is almost certainly mistaken in her conclusion that it must have been those evil, toxin-laden vaccines that killed her baby. It might be understandable that she came to believe this, but when she spreads the message throughout the Internet on an antivaccine blog, then that message needs to be countered.

Indeed, one wonders what effects antivaccine propaganda had on Rachel. She herself admits that she didn’t think of vaccines as a possible cause until a few years after Danny’s death. How did she come to the conclusion that vaccines killed her baby? She saw it in a dream:

I was told the vaccines were safe. I never did realize the vaccines could be responsible for what happened to my son. I was told it couldn’t be the vaccines and I trusted them.

I even continued to vaccinate my other children. I never denied vaccines until 2011 when I denied the HPV vaccine for my daughters and the Hep A vaccine for the son I had just after Danny died. I was seven months pregnant with him when Danny passed away.

This was before I knew about Danny, but these two vaccines didn’t sit well with my mommy instinct.

I learned more in 2011. It wasn’t until more than a few years after Danny passed, that I had a weird dream of my son. He came to me in my dream and it is the only dream I know of him being in.

He was just sitting in his bouncy seat and a man’s voice said, “It was the ‘site-o-kin’ storm that killed me.”

I decided to Google the term and found the term cytokine storm. I was shocked at what I had found. This dream, combined with a few other bothersome details, led me to send off his slides and other things I had saved.

Clearly, by this time something had led Rachel to drift to antivaccine views. What it was, who knows? But before she had her dream, she had already started, in a small way, to “deny vaccines” by refusing to give the HPV vaccine to her daughter and the Hepatitis A vaccine to her son. The term “cytokine storm” is not something that would just “come” to someone like Rachel (or anyone without a medical education) in a dream (or anywhere else, for that matter) unless she had heard it before somewhere. My guess is that by this time Rachel had been perusing antivaccine websites and antivaccine “mommy” discussion boards like Mothering.com and had thus come across the term. Also, as she relates later in the story, her a friend of hers had suffered the loss of a child to SIDS. Clearly, the seed of suspicion of vaccines had already been planted.

So what did Rachel do? This next part is a bit unbelievable:

Danny had blood samples taken when he was twelve months old. On the day of Danny’s well-baby visit two months later, just before he passed, the day he was given that last set of shots, they had to take his blood again because of a previous lab mix-up.

I wasn’t comfortable with the way things were going so I had requested that the samples be sent to a facility for storing.

I had kept a locket of Danny’s hair after he had passed away, some slides requested after his autopsy, and decided to send some teeth and bone fragments from his ashes to the pathologist, along with the stored blood samples I had requested be saved. I then made arrangements to have the evidence reviewed.

Everything was reviewed by three separate pathologists. All three confirmed the same findings. The pathologists stated vaccine-induced hypercytokinemia as the cause of my son’s asphyxiation.

They were able to determine this in large part to the blood panel taken prior to Danny receiving his vaccines, in contrast with the samples I had stored.

They also agreed encephalopathy was likely responsible, as it’s a cytokine storm syndrome.

Danny’s pathology report stated his cause of death was asphyxiation, secondary to hypercytokinemia, caused by vaccines received approximately 72 hours prior.

Blood samples are rarely stored for very long. Once the tests for which they were drawn are performed, they’re usually quickly discarded because most laboratories don’t have the facilities to properly store large numbers of blood samples for long periods of time, nor is there usually a reason to do so. If blood samples are drawn as part of a research protocol, they are often stored long term, but, otherwise, it’s pretty uncommon. Yet in this one case, apparently they were because for some reason this mother just happened to request it right before her son’s death. The coincidence is striking. Then, Rachel managed to find three pathologists to do tests to diagnose “cytokine storm” on a three year old blood sample.

There’s also the pesky matter of the autopsy report. If, as Rachel French claims, Danny had suffered from encephalopathy, it likely would have been noted on the autopsy report, because most of the time pathologists doing an autopsy examine the brain, particularly in a case where the baby had exhibited fever and irritability beforehand, as encephalitis might have been the cause of death. Moreover, cytokine storm bad enough to cause death would produce findings on autopsy, such as edema of the lungs and other tissues due to a massive generalized inflammatory reaction. Lacking such findings (and, I’m sure, if there were such findings the coroner would have noted them), it’s pretty much impossible to attribute the cause of death to cytokine storm.

Indeed, at least one commenter was not satisfied with this story and wanted more information, as do I. For instance, she asked if VacTruth.org could post the actual pathologists’ reports used to conclude that Danny died of hypercytokinemia, noting that “I wouldn’t normally ask this except that you’ve already posted his vaccination records and the medical examiner’s report.” She also asked for clarification:

Also, I want to make sure I’m understanding your explanation of where the samples came from correctly: the samples in which the pathologists found elevated cytokine levels were taken at the same 14-month well-baby visit at which he received the vaccinations (so within an hour or so after the vaccinations, I presume) – is that correct? And the data they used for comparison was not, if I’m understanding you correctly, the actual sample that was taken at his 12-month well-baby visit, but the results of the blood panel that was performed at that time – is that also correct?

Indeed, timing and circumstances of the blood sample matter. In any case, no satisfactory answer was given. Lowell Hubbs popped into the conversation and explained what sort of findings are expected in cytokine storm, but no one posted any results of Danny’s blood work that actually showed results consistent with this. Ultimately, he threw up his hands (metaphorically speaking, given that this is a Disqus discussion thread) and admitted that he didn’t know the answers to the questions being asked about the blood samples.

I agree with Reuben, who also discussed this story. As bad as I feel for the mother, she is being manipulated by antivaccine propagandists to believe that vaccines caused the death of her 14 month old son when almost certainly they did not. It’s always hard to dissect stories like this because the subject matter is so sensitive. However, it’s just as difficult when I dissect cases of “cancer cures” that are not and just as important. Anecdotes are powerful things to human beings, and Rachel French’s anecdote is spreading on Facebook and Twitter, bringing fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines with it. However much I might feel sorry for Ms. French’s loss, I feel obligated to do my part to point out just how unbelievable and dubious her anecdote is, even as I sympathize with her for her loss. As usual, the real culprits are the antivaccine liars, who have led Ms. French to believe that it was vaccines that killed Danny.