• Mon, Jun 11 2007

Vaccine Court, Day 1

For the next three weeks, it is likely that the autism newswires will be rife with reports of children who, their parents allege, became autistic as a result of a vaccine—and by what strange coincidence did West Coast wrapper Turf Talk release a new CD under of the name of “West Coast Vaccine (The Cure)”? Must be a coincidence — though a few things about how the describes some of his rapping (“his syllables arrive as a torrent of pinched vowels and bursting consonants”) calls to mind my son Charlie’s own interesting articulations. (I am not, I must mention, partial to rap music.)

More to the point: Today saw the beginning of the “vaccine court” —- in which 4800 families of autistic children are plaintiffs claiming that their child’s autism was caused by a vaccine —-in Washington D.C., with 12-year-old Michelle Cedillo of Yuma, Arizona, wheeled into court by her parents, Theresa and Michael Cedillo. As reported by today’s Associated Press, Cedillo has “a litany of health problems, including severe autism, inflammatory bowel disease, glaucoma and epilepsy.” The Associated Press explains how the plaintiffs might argue for their cases, and lay out the basics of the dispute about the evidence and the science of an alleged vaccine-autism link:

The burden of proof is easier than in a traditional court. Plaintiffs only have to prove that a link between autism and the shots is more likely than not, based on a preponderance of evidence.

Large scientific studies have found no association between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal.

But many parents say their children’s symptoms did not show up until after their children received the vaccines, required by many states for admission to school.

”These are families who followed the rules. These are families who brought children in for vaccines. These are families who immunized their children,” said the Cedillos’ attorney, Thomas Powers.

Powers said that the science regarding a possible vaccine-autism link is in dispute.

Government attorney Vincent Matanoski dismissed much of what the plaintiffs are expected to present as conjecture or speculation.

”You’ll find their hypotheses untested or, when tested, have been found false,” Matanoski said.

It will be an interesting upcoming three weeks, to understate the matter.

Update, 10.30pm.

The New York Times reports on the opening statements in the trial, by Thomas Powers and Sylvia Chin-Caplan who are representing the Cedillos, and Vincent J. Matanoski, an assistant director in the civil division of the Department of Justice.

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  • irene

    i too am a parent of a 9 year old autistic child and am convinced it was caused by the shot because up until he was given the mmr shot, he was a typical child and after it I watched that typical boy disappear. They will never prove the correlation between the shot and the cause of autism because all us families would want to be heavily compensated for our heartache and for the lifelong care of our children and I ask you “who would be willing to make these compensations-NOBODY-not the gov’t ,the drug companies, NOBODY-so unfortunately it will always be a losing battle in which their lawyers will continue to disprove our claims!

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    My son is just a year older than yours. It will indeed be interesting as to what the verdict is, and what happens after that.

  • http://spoowriter.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I think the problem here is that many people confuse something that occurs at the same time or nearly after as causation.

    For instance, I had a migraine two nights ago. I had just eaten a peach. Therefore, one might conclude that the peach caused my migraine.

    Unless, of course, one knew that I get a migraine every month for…ahem…other reasons.

    I think that — at the least — people need to be aware of the fact that just because autism has begun to manifest itself after a child receives a shot that is generally given at the same age, it doesn’t logically follow that the one caused the other.

    Of course, playing Devil’s Advocate, it doesn’t necessarily logically follow that the one did not cause the other.

    Please don’t take this as criticism — it’s the latent science nerd in me that just had to point that out.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    There’s a post on correlation and causation on Science Blogs that really helped me understand this—there’s a link to it this post. It’s a lot to sort out.

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    I listen to my latent science nerd, too. It’s like saying that the kid with a headache in math class is stressed out by math, but then finding out that math is right after lunch and the child has a food allergy. Causation vs. correlation? The blame game? Autism is not that simple, I fear.

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  • AutismDad

    I must admit that I am a bit of a science nerd as well. But, the evidence in these cases are quite clear. In fact, if you look at the evidence that the government is using you will find it very close to that science that tabacco companies used in their defense.

    Let me ask just a few simple questions.

    1. Why is it that shortly after the Simpsonwood meeting took place, the Republican party received DOUBLE the amount of “contributions” from pharma companies? (They received around $28m)

    2. Why did they, again, receive DOUBLE amounts of contributions from pharma after passing the Eli Lilly Protection act?

    (These two years BOTH are the highest levels of campaign contributions EVER received!!!)

    3. Why did a certain REPUBLICAN congressman receive a $10,000 contribution, the day after he slipped the Eli Lilly Protection bill into homeland security? (Eli Lilly also purchased 5,000 copies of this congressman’s book.)

    4. Why did the government take a tax payer financed database (vaccine database) and turn it over to a private firm and then classify that database so that ONLY pharma companies have access?

    5. Thimerosal has been banned from eye drops for nearly 20 years. It was banned from ANIMAL vaccines 15 years ago. It was labelled, by the government, as poison during WWII. Why are they giving this to humans?

    6. If thimerosal is NOT dangerous why is there a need to protect pharma companies?

    7. Doctors say that autism is NOT on the rise, that they are simply becoming better at diagnosing it. Where are all of the 20 year-old autistics?

    I could go on and on with simple questions like these.

    The facts are VERY obvious. The science is there. The goverments OWN science has shown it.

    Do NOT accept bribery and pay-offs to be confused with REAL science. For god’s sake…do a simple Google search on the effects of mercury on brain cells. There are videos (from universities) that will show you EXACTLY how mercury attacks brain cells.

    If you think that we are conspiracy nuts…that the government would NOT allow this to happen, just think about this:

    Let’s just say that pharma companies know that thimerosal DOES injur. It would be in their best interest to pay-off lawmakers. EVERY child will be vaccinated. That’s BIG money. And, let’s face it…money makes the world go round.

    So, I say to those of you dealing with autism and the thimerosal link…God bless you and I wish you all the best.

    For those of you that don’t…just open your eyes and do a little research. It’s there.

    I hope that ALL find a cure, no matter what happens in our cases.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Fortunately in the mean time, we can help our children by educating them and advocating for educational programs that best suit their needs.

  • AutismDad

    You’re right about advocating for educational programs. Unfortunately, the cost of REAL programs is usually out of reach for most people. My wife and I considered hiring therapists, for our daughter, but soon found that it was WELL out of reach.

    Just for therapists to come to our home we were quoted $12,500 per month!!!

    Of course insurance will not cover anything (including medicines)

    I realize that some people choose to use a state facility, but, I can not bring myself to that. If there is but one thing that I share with my daughter it is love. And no matter what doctors tell me that she can or can not understand…I see that love in her eyes.

    I just wish (and I don’t mean any offense to your PhD) that doctors would help stand for autistic rights and help lobby for their insurance coverage. But, (especially private physicians) are right there in line with pharma companies.

    I recently read a report of how doctors are visited by pharma companies and given gifts and/or taken out to eat. The report actually said, “A modest meal will not affect or influence the doctor to use drugs from these companies.”

    Ha! They’re not going to McDonald’s for that, “Modest Meal.” By the way, that report also indicated that these doctors are going out to eat an average of 16 times per month! That’s only 4 days a month that they’re buying their own, “modest meal.”

    It’s just amazing the dept of deplorable practice in this area. From politicians to pharma to doctors.

  • http://spoowriter.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I’m not a scientist, and while I’d rather not get any further into the murcury debate than I already have, I just wanted to respond to one comment by AutismDad:

    7. Doctors say that autism is NOT on the rise, that they are simply becoming better at diagnosing it. Where are all of the 20 year-old autistics?

    Autism may indeed be on the rise. But I do believe that doctors ARE becoming better diagnosed.

    24 years ago, I was a hyperlexic, selectively mute 5 year old. I had no social skills to speak of. (Still don’t, really, though I “pass” well enough that many of my fellow teachers are startled that I consider myself somewhere on the spectrum.)

    20 years ago, I communicated in school completely in writing. My writing was short and formulaic; even in 4th grade (keep in mind that I was reading the Little House books in Kindergarten) my sentences were rarely more than 3 or 4 words long.

    18 years ago, my (private) school said that I had to speak at school or could no longer attend, so I forced myself to do so. But I had no idea what to say, and very little internal censor.

    20 years ago, while I was perceived as an usual and somewhat perplexing child (I was taken to both a speech therapist and child psychologist), no one would have dreamed of saying that I “had autism” because that wasn’t the view of autism.

    I could speak — just often didn’t. I could interact — just often on favorite topics and with very little sense of give and take. I could make eye contact — except that I learned really early on how to look at eyebrows instead.

    Whether or not you think that the entire rise in prevalence of autism is due to better diagnosis, I believe that it is true that clinicians are more able to diagnose — and therefore are diagnosing more — cases of autism.

    Just my six cents. :-)

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    It’s a Ph.D., not an M.D.—–we don’t exactly get wined and dined by Big Anyone, not in my discipline (Latin and Greek, and I teach at a small Jesuit college; most of our students are first-generation college students and first-generation Americans). My father was a pharmacist in a hospital for years and encountered exactly the kinds of “offers” from companies interested in him using their products, not that my dad was ever swayed. I have read that, due to the needs of refrigeration and so forth, it is getting much more expensive for physicians to offer vaccines from their offices—-my father used to give me some interesting accounts of the drug salemen, and women, he encountered.

    Charlie’s education has been our greatest expense—not that I like to use that word, as every dollar and cent has been more than worth it. When teachers and therapists are good and know their stuff, I am glad to foot the bill—but another question is why do some autism “consultants” charge so, it seems, so much?

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Jennifer, I think your comment was worth at least a few cents more…….

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  • AutismDad

    I agree whole heartedly that there is better science now to help detect autism. I feel very fortunate that my daughter received her diagnosis early. We have an EXCELLENT school system, where we live, and she receives a top-notch education.

    My point, though, is that currently the numbers are as high as 1 in 150 children being diagnosed with autism. 20 years ago those numbers were somewhere around 1 in 12,000. Wouldn’t it only make sense that if doctors are becoming better at diagnosing the disorder, shouldn’t the number of people born before 1991 have the disorder? Right now 1 in every 150 college students should have some form of autism, but they don’t.
    It just saddens me that here is something that is destroying a generation of children. (Something that I believe could and SHOULD have been avoided) and now the medical community is patting each other on the back for.
    Kristina, I really did not mean to offend. I was not sure what field your PhD was in. But, I have to say this:
    It seems to me (especially with autism) that PhD’s are doing the research and experiments. Meanwhile the government and MD’s are trying to dis-credit their work. On day one of this trial I listened as a PhD testified (a man who has worked with mercury and mercury poisoning for over 50 years) and as one of their first questions the government asks, “Are you an MD?” The man has probably forgotten more about mercury than any MD will EVER know.
    We are in a perplexing situation. MD’s are of NO help in the treatment. The government is of NO help. Some of us are forunate to find great educational facilities. But, without the support of other parents dealing with this disorder, we are virtually alone.
    Many of us are not an MD nor PhD, yet to some degree we have had to become them. I have compiled mass amounts of data and have my own theories and hypothosis about steps towards a supressing agent. But, let’s face it, no one is going to hand me a key to the university lab to test my work.
    A cure will NEVER come, in the form of a pill or shot. It will come through the love and caring of parents, and the will of our children. There will never be a cure because what cures one child will not cure all.
    Jennifer, please either post more of your “six cents worth” or email me.
    I would greatly appreciate it (as I am sure that others would.) I love to read and hear about this. Your story gives hope to us all. We are the ones that have to find a cure for the individuals.
    I know that no matter what the verdict is in this case it will not replace what has been taken. I don’t care that pharma is not willing to admit their mistakes. The only thing that I know is that they did make a mistake. A horrifying mistake. And, I will not live forever. I simply think that someone should be held accountable for this tragedy. So that when I close my eyes I won’t be worried, so much, about what will happen to my daughter. That my other children will have the means to provide the very best care for her.
    But, for now I will continue to work on her education and continue with my own work and hope that someday the MD’s of the world and the government will not let pharma dictate policy and that some REAL work can be accomplished.