It is incident to physicians, I am afraid, beyond all other men, to mistake subsequence for consequence. – Dr Samuel Johnson
Of course, parents make this mistake too. Just because one event is subsequent (happens after) another, it does not mean that it was a consequence (was caused by) the first event.
Another way to say this is that correlation does not imply causation. We often forget that sometimes things just coincidentally happen at about the same time.
While SIDS, early symptoms of autism, and other things may seem to correlate with getting vaccines, it has been proven (again and again and again) that they are not caused by vaccines.
Mistaking subsequence for consequence and thinking that correlation always implies causation is likely why we have so many vaccine injury stories.
But the real problem is that these vaccine injury stories are shared everywhere from YouTube and Facebook to parenting groups and forums and help to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.
It is important to remember that no matter how moving or convincing these stories are, they are not evidence of a vaccine injury. And although in the minority, these stories far outnumber the stories of parents of kids who didn’t have a reaction after their vaccines. Parents rarely post pictures on Facebook or do YouTube videos after there kids go to the doctor, get vaccines, and are fine.
They also typically outnumber the stories of children who suffered from a vaccine-preventable disease, although again, that certainly doesn’t mean that vaccine injuries are more common.
Vaccine Injury Stories
In 1994, the first deaf Miss America was crowned, with her mother blaming the DPT vaccine for her child’s deafness. Like many other vaccine-injury stories, Heather Whitestone’s story wasn’t what it seemed. Her pediatrician quickly came forward and set the record straight – she was deaf because of a life-threatening case of Hib meningitis and the subsequent treatment with an ototoxic antibiotic. It took several days for the media to run the corrected story though.
Born in 1973, it would be another 15 years before the first Hib vaccine was approved and began to be routinely given to children. The DPT vaccine, which has never been shown to cause deafness, had nothing to do with Heather Whitestone’s loss of hearing. It certainly didn’t stop anti-vaccine groups from using her initial story and the media coverage to scare parents about vaccines though.
Twenty years later, a mother in Waukesha, Wisconsin blamed the Gardasil vaccine for causing her daughter’s death. The healthy 12-year-old died unexpectedly hours after getting her vaccine and her father’s vaccine injury story was that “It has to be that vaccine.”
It wasn’t until several months later that the Waukesha County medical examiner released the official cause of the girl’s death – diphenhydramine intoxication (too much Benadryl, a sedating antihistamine). The medical examiner also stated that “There is no evidence that any vaccination caused or contributed to her death.”
Keep in mind that very few vaccine injury stories are verified like this.
VAERS and NVICP
But don’t all of the reports to to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the payouts from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) support many of the vaccine injury stories?
They don’t, but even so, anti-vaccine folks like to mislead people about VAERS and theNVICP.
They also seem to be favorite talking points for Dr. Bob Sears, who often mentions the yearly reports to VAERS and amount of payouts from the Vaccine Court. He doesn’t mention that most cases in Vaccine Court are settled and not based on a court decision and many more cases are dismissed.
Folks like Dr. Bob also usually don’t mention that:
- more than 10 million vaccines are given to infants each year in the United States
- at least 2,236,678,735 doses of vaccines were given between 2006 and 2013 in the United States
It is also important to remember that when looking at VAERS reports, “for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.”
One study, “Causality assessment of adverse events reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS),” actually found that after experts reviewed 100 random VAERS reports from 2004, only 3 adverse events were thought to be definitely caused by a vaccine. And only one of these was a serious reaction – anaphylaxis.
These results were similar to an earlier report in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, which found that the majority of reports of severe vaccine reactions were unrelated to vaccination and that “to claim that all reported adverse events are caused by vaccination is misleading and erroneous, but the opponents of vaccination often still refuse to accept this.”
Another study, “Seizures, Encephalopathy, and Vaccines: Experience in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program,” found that “a significant number of children with alleged vaccine injury had pre-existing neurologic or neurodevelopmental abnormalities. Among those developing chronic epilepsy, many had clinical features suggesting genetically determined epilepsy.”
DPT Vaccine Injury Stories
Just before similar trials in the United States, a series of lawsuits in England were brought against the manufacturers of the DPT vaccines. They too claimed that the DPT vaccinehad caused children to develop seizures and brain damage.
The trails in England all found that the DPT vaccines did not cause vaccine injuries.
One trial involved 15-year-old Johnnie Kinnear, a child who supposedly began to develop seizures just seven hours after getting a dose of DPT vaccine when he was 14-months-old. His parents lost their case when it became clear after reviewing medical records that he had actually not developed seizures until 5 months after being vaccinated, despite his mother’s testimony of the onset of his symptoms.
In another case, in addition to ruling that the child had not been vaccine injured, the judge called into question several popular researchers and studies that had likely pushed parents into thinking that their kids were vaccine injured.
One study, by David Miller, which reportedly found that seven children developed brain damage within a week of getting a DPT vaccine, actually included two children who had never received the pertussis vaccine, three children who were not actually brain damaged, three children who had a viral infection, and one child who had Reye’s Syndrome.
Study after study found that the DPT did not cause brain damage and as for seizures, it was found that many children who began having seizures after being vaccinated actually had Dravet syndrome, a rare, genetic cause of encephalopathy that causes seizures that are hard to control and developmental delays.
David Miller’s DPT study is reminiscent of Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent and now retracted study in which he claimed that the MMR vaccine caused autism. It wasn’t until after Wakefield’s study was published and well publicized that we began to hear more and more vaccine injury stories about autism.
Autism Vaccine Injury Stories
Although many people still seem to be unaware of this, in addition to the fact that there are unvaccinated children with autism, there are many parents who don’t blame vaccines for their child’s autism.
Michele Han, MD, a pediatrician in Texas says that “I do not believe vaccines had anything to do with my child’s autism. I never noticed any change in his speech, behavior or development with vaccines. I believe the protection and benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks!”
So why do some other parents claim that their kids were injured or damaged by vaccines, especially causing autism?
Most certainly are not like the Wakefield ‘MMR mother’ who was found to have fabricated her son’s vaccine injury story.
Instead, it is probably that they don’t notice the gradual changes in development that typically occur in children who develop autism.
Several studies have found that:
- less than 20 percent of parents notice the gradual changes that occur in children who develop autism, including a loss of social skills in the first year
- most children with autism who appear to have regression are found to have earlier developmental problems
But even though these aren’t new studies and we continue to see new research some parents continue to blame vaccines.
It is probable that “parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis,” and many began to blame vaccines because of “the public debate which has raged since Wakefield et al.’s (1998) initial report of a possible association.”
Other experts think that “the parental focus on vaccines as a possible cause of autism has been encouraged by the recent growth in popularity of ‘unorthodox biomedical’ theories and therapies in autism, particularly in the USA.”
Unfortunately, blaming vaccines can also:
- adversely affect the parent’s relationship with their autistic child
- adversely affect the parent’s acceptance of their child’s condition
- cause feelings of guilt for having their kids vaccinated
- adversely affect the parent’s relationship with their pediatrician, perhaps even pushing them to an alternative provider
- leave these children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases
- waste resources that must be used convincing parents that vaccines are safe and proving that quack treatments don’t work and aren’t safe
And tragically, blaming vaccines can lead to these children being subjected to unproven, and sometimes disproved, often dangerous, unnecessary, expensive biomed treatmentsin an attempt to cure their autism or ‘recover’ them – to beat autism.Related Articles
Vaccine injuries certainly can occur.
Allergic reactions, thrombocytopenic purpura with MMR, or vaccine-strain polio viral infection with OPV, etc., are rare, but well-known vaccine side effects.
Also, Guillain-Barré Syndrome in very rare circumstances is thought to be caused by vaccines.
In 1988, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) and its associated vaccine injury tables.
In addition to vaccines and specific vaccine injuries or conditions, the vaccine injury tables include a time period after getting the vaccine during which the symptoms should have started to consider the vaccine as the cause. For example, if a child develops anaphylaxis 10 hours after getting a DTaP vaccine, then it is more likely to be caused by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich he eat and not the vaccine. If the symptoms started within 4 hours, then the vaccine would be a more likely cause.
Not surprisingly, many conditions aren’t included in the vaccine injury tables, as they have been shown to not be caused by vaccines, including:
These are not vaccine induced diseases.
True vaccine injuries should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
Vaccine injury stories that describe one or more of these conditions should likely be met with more than a little skepticism.
Collet, JP. Monitoring signals for vaccine safety: the assessment of individual adverse event reports by an expert advisory committee. Advisory Committee on Causality. Bull World Health Organ. 2000; 78(2): 178–185. Assessment.
Vaccines (Sixth Edition)
Lateef, Tarannum M. Seizures, Encephalopathy, and Vaccines: Experience in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The Journal of Pediatrics. Volume 166, Issue 3, March 2015, Pages 576–581
Fitzpatrick, Michael. MMR: risk, choice, chance. Br Med Bull (2004) 69 (1): 143-153
Mercer L. Parental Perspectives on the Causes of an Autism Spectrum Disorder in their Children. Journal of Genetic Counseling. February 2006, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 41-50