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Findings on Autism and the Vaccine Court to Be Announced Today

By May 10, 2011

A group of parents and lawyers will be making an announcement today at noon, based on a research study which involved a review of the Vaccine Court's awards to brain-injured children.  The original press release for this event states:

Investigators from Pace Law School in New York will be joined by parents and children with autism to announce a groundbreaking study that strongly suggests a link between vaccines and autism onTuesday, May 10 at 12:00 pm in front of the US Court of Claims (717 Madison Place in Washington DC).  The study, which was carried out using readily available, public government data, found that a substantial number of children who have been compensated for vaccine injury by the federal government have autism - more than three times the national prevalence.  However, as the government publicly denies a link between autism and vaccines and claims these individuals have been compensated for brain damage and seizures, of which autism is often a symptom, this study casts a serious doubt on previous findings by the government regarding vaccine safety.  This is the first time this study is being unveiled.

The investigators will be calling upon Congress to immediately investigate the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and plan to hold Congressional briefings.

I have been working to clarify precisely what the study found, and am still in process.

I did respond to Danielle Orsino, who sent out the press release, asking the question: Were there cases in which the vaccine court awarded a settlement for damage that manifested itself as the symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder? Was the term "autism" ever used to describe the outcome of vaccine damage (eg, "the child suffered from neurological damage resulting in autism")?

Danielle responded quickly, saying "The study strongly suggests a link between autism and vaccines.  The study found that of those who had been compensated for brain damage due to vaccines, a much-higher-than-average number also had autism.  The study makes an extremely strong case for the vaccine-autism connection, which is why the study's authors are urging Congress to investigate the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program."

This response seems to suggest that the simple answer to my question is "no."

This morning, however, Age of Autism printed the Executive Summary for the study, which includes the statement "This study found 83 cases of acknowledged vaccine-induced brain damage that include autism, a disorder that affects speech, social communication and behavior."   This statement certainly seems to suggest that indeed the court DID acknowledge brain injury resulting in autism...  The Age of Autism site also includes a link to the Pace Environmental Law Review where the article does not (as of 9:30 EDT) appear.  I'm told that it will be placed on the front page of that site at noon today. [Note: the article was made available at the link above as of 10:30 this morning EDT.]

Seth Mnookin, author of the Panic Virus, has written several blog posts about this topic on the PlosBlogs site; one of those blogs suggests that the Pace findings are statistical sleight of hand: "Note that the language here is "the federal government [has] paid millions of dollars to vaccine-injured children with autism" and not "the federal government [has] paid millions of dollars to vaccine-injured children because of their autism." The federal government's vaccine-compensation fund has also paid lots of money to children who end up being left-handed -- but that doesn't mean that vaccines causes their left-handedness."

Hopefully, I'll have more information to share later today, pending a conversation with at least one of the folks who conducted this study.  It seems that the precise content of the findings is not yet clear - and that in itself seems to be news!

May 10, 2011 at 10:19 am
(1) Kev says:

Its up now.

I hope everybody reads this paper very very carefully. Its an excellent example of legal sleight-of-hand.

May 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm
(2) MJ says:

I think someone who just said today that -

“As we all kow ‘autism like symptoms’ or ‘symptoms and behavior consistent with autism.’ might be just that – but they are not autism.”

- has absolutely no room to talk about a sleight-of-hand. Behaviors consistent with autism aren’t autism? Really? I guess no one ever pointed out to you that autism is defined only on the basis of behaviors…

So, I second the call – read the article very carefully and don’t be go in with preconceived notions that this is just a “legal sleight-of-hand”. Read the entire thing and form your own opinion.

May 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm
(3) Kev says:

MJ, sadly its not as black and white as you want to think. Anyone can have behaviours consistent with autism and not have autism. The test for having autism comes when you’re diagnosed with having autism having displayed *all* the necessary behaviours consistent with autism.

You don’t get to pick and choose which symptoms mean autism and which don’t MJ. You either have them all and have autism or have some or none and don’t. As I recall you’ve struggled with that pretty basic concept for the last 4 years.

May 10, 2011 at 10:25 am
(4) Kristina Chew says:

I think Seth Mnookin makes a key point.

May 10, 2011 at 11:00 am
(5) Mary Hirzel says:

You would.

May 10, 2011 at 11:46 am
(6) Sandy says:

Don’t miss the sitings at the bottom of each page. Very interesting.

May 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm
(7) Amadna says:

Why are the american people paying for these injuries and not the pharm companies – thats the big question! Everybody should be aware that vaccine can cause serious injury whether it is autism or brain damage, or whatever you want to label it. If pharm companies were liable maybe thwy would have some incentive to make things safer…. right now there is none!

May 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm
(8) Paul says:

Very good point. Big pharma is evil.

May 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm
(9) kay says:

Agreed. I don’t trust the FDA or Big Pharmas. I believe vaccines are the cause of many neuro problems. Too many shots at one time at such a young age cannot be tolerated by the systems of these young babies and or children. My grandchild reacted very badly to his shots and was soon diagnosed with a neuro affliction. We opted out of the rest of his shots.

May 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm
(10) Stuart Duncan says:

I watched the whole thing as parent after parent stood on the steps and spoke into the microphone, each one saying very clearly that they are not anti-vaccine, rather for the safety of our children. They were doing this to pressure congress to do more research and to force manufacturers to make safer vaccines.

Meanwhile, in the chat room, parent after parent declared that they were anti-vaccine, that they didn’t vaccinate their children and some parents even repeatedly told everyone that “vaccines don’t work.”

Those people won’t even listen to the people that are saying what they want to hear, how are we supposed to get them to hear news/information that they might not want to hear??

May 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm
(11) autism says:

Stuart – where did you watch?

May 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm
(12) Stuart Duncan says:

They had a ustream live video set up, it’s still on now, looping over the recording so you can see it.

This is the link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ebcala

May 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm
(13) Scott says:

Stuart…Do you have a child on the “spectrum”? Well I do have one that I go home to every day. Do you know how it feels to be the one that had the vaccines hurt your child. I can tell you that it is a very hard fact to swollow. Do you think that it makes it o.k. that our child’s life has been severely altered because he was a “sacrafice” to the whole. I have done a great deal of research on all the vaccines that were “mainlined” into my child from the day that he was born. How much research have you done? Take a close look at all of the crap that they have put in these things all inthe name of the mighty dollar. It all comes down to money. You have to look at it like food. Food produced with preservatives is bad for you, and can cause much damage to your body. Food produced without is better for you, but can go bad quicker (this costs the company more money, but is the safest way to eat). Vaccines are the same in premise. If you put the crap in the vaccines, then they last longer (therefore can be made cheaper and cost the production companies more money), but leaves children at risk (LIKE MY CHILD). If you don’t go home to a child on the spectrum, then you shouldn’t even comment about it.

May 11, 2011 at 6:39 am
(14) Stuart Duncan says:

Yes I do have a child on the spectrum and yes I have done a lot of research into vaccines and their correlation to autism.

Is this your attempt to refute the fact that the parents in the video all said that they’re not anti-vaccine? I’m not sure what your point is.

May 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm
(15) Jenny says:

I believe what they are saying is that these children have what is now labeled as “autism” – when their injuries are in fact brain damage from vaccines. I believe that the “autism” epidemic isn’t truly “autism” but “autism-like” symptoms as a result of vaccine damage. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and I believe it has many different causes….I also believe that this issue will not be put to rest until the experts can make a distincton between true autism from birth, as opposed to a false “autism” that may be a direct result from brain injury after receiving a vaccine. This review and call to congressional investigation may begin the process of finding out the difference between autism and vaccine injury that may be falsely labeled as autism.

May 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm
(16) David Taylor says:

The study describes children who received awards for brain damage caused by vaccines. The children described also had autism.

Just a coincidence? Like also being left handed?

Please realize that, in defense of your position, this study has reduced you and Seth Moonkin to a form of semantic dodge ball that is both transparent and laughable.

Unfortunately, 1 in 110 children in America and their parents aren’t laughing.

May 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm
(17) brian says:

Almost all of the cases that the authors reviewed involved the DTP vaccine, which was alleged to cause injury in about half of the cases that have been compensated by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Encephalopathy following receipt of DTP was for some years a slam-dunk justification for compensation—but that’s no longer true, as there is strong evidence that the great majority of such cases involve a pre-existing mutation that causes encephalopathy and the same clinical course whether or not the first seizure happens to occur in proximity to vaccination.

It is now clear that mutations in genes that encode proteins that form neuronal ion channels are responsible for these alleged DPT-related “injuries.” The most common syndrome involves the SCN1A gene, which encodes a subunit of a sodium channel. This gene is expressed at a very low level at birth, but it is fully expressed about the time that seizures begin to manifest. (This doesn’t occur just in humans: unvaccinated rat pups become susceptible to seizures after a period of normal development, at a couple of weeks post-weaning, when the mutant gene reaches full expression.) This common genetic syndrome was described by Dravet, who noted: “Marked slowing or stagnation of psychomotor development, accompanied by psychotic or autistic traits and hyperactivity, was observed between the ages of one and four years. [Wolff M, Cassé-Perrot C, Dravet C. Severe myoclonic epilepsy of infants (Dravet syndrome): natural history and neuropsychological findings. Epilepsia. 2006;47 Suppl 2:45-8] Many of the mutations in this gene cause febrile seizures, but the genetically-determined seizure disorder (and what Dravet described as autistic traits) may or may not happen to be initially revealed by a febrile episode, which, nonetheless, clearly does not “trigger” the development of the genetically-determined disorder—or autism.

May 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm
(18) Diane says:

The federal government’s vaccine-compensation fund has also paid lots of money to children who end up being left-handed — but that doesn’t mean that vaccines causes their left-handedness.”

Is Mnookin being sarcastic? About.com should not publish this and put parents suing because their child is left handed and one’s that have vaccine injured children that have to be cared for the rest of their lives. I do not understand the humor and why that comment was published. He might as well say that these people should not be compensated for the care that is needed for a child that will have to be taken care of the rest of their life.

May 10, 2011 at 3:48 pm
(19) Stuart Duncan says:

It’s not humour, it’s a comparison.

There is just as much proof of the vaccines causing their autism as there is in the vaccines causing their being left handed.

Which means that it’s possible that they’d have been autistic regardless of the vaccines just like they’re left handed regardless of the vaccines.

May 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm
(20) autism says:

There’s some significant oddness going on relative to this announcement and the findings… did interview one of the researchers, and have a little more info… will write another piece tonight or tomorrow.


May 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm
(21) Dee says:

Thank you. I just wish we could put all of the ridiculousness aside and just get to the truth. Is there a subset of kids with certain mutations that maybe have an increased risk for reactions? We need more information instead of both sides being smug.

I’m certain that my kids have inherent spectrum issues… I know some of the genes we have are implicit in their symptoms. But my son met all of his milestones, sat up, talked, pointed, waved, loved his sister… and after a 103 temp. for three days after his 18 month appointment he began to withdraw and regress. It has been confirmed by researchers at UCSD who looked at my home videos as a part of the project we are in.

Was it a toxic event that could possibly impact someone with a premutation of fragile X? Was it an autoantibody response? The latest journals are just beginning to produce information about the underlying biology that is happening in certain subset populations. Something caused my son to regress, I know it as much as a know anything… I think he still would have been on the spectrum as we think of it today but something exacerbated the situation.

May 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm
(22) Michele says:

Vaccines can cause all kinds of medical problems like seizure disorders, brain damage, and even death. But, they can’t cause autism. How can anyone believe that or say that with a straight face?

Can’t you people who are still arguing this point see how silly and desperate you sound? Arguing that features of autism isn’t really autism is crazy talk.

The parents who spoke today on behalf of their brain damaged autistic children described babies who were healthy and normally developing who suffered vaccine reactions that caused a multitude of medical problems -autism being one of them.

This charade must stop. We must stop allowing children to suffer these horrendous vaccination reactions.

It’s time to protect the innocent babies.

And it would be nice to get some compensation for those who already suffered tremendous harm. Too many children will need round the clock care. Families need help. This children are due this.

May 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm
(23) brian says:

Michele wrote: “The parents who spoke today on behalf of their brain damaged autistic children described babies who were healthy and normally developing who suffered vaccine reactions that caused a multitude of medical problems -autism being one of them.”

No, the available scientific evidence suggests that at least most of the parents who spoke today described children who happened to have a (usually de novo) mutation that allowed them to develop normally for a period of months until the initially low expression level of the gene increased (as it normally does) to the point where the children developed epilepsy and suffered encephalopathy, which would have occurred whether or not the children had been vaccinated.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the fact that those children were compensated for alleged vaccine injuries years before the scientific evidence suggested that the families did not actually deserve compensation certainly doesn’t prove that vaccines cause autism.

May 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm
(24) Paula says:

So, people want to split hairs on whether this is truly autism or not? Seriously?
Does it make you feel better if this is “just” brain-damage versus autism caused by the vaccines?
Children are being damaged beyond repair from these vaccines, and who even knows the long-term effects. Where are those studies?

May 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm
(25) autism says:

Paula et al, it IS important to split hairs on this issue, and here’s why.

The US Government has NEVER denied that vaccines can cause brain damage, and they have paid out for such damage. There is no “cover up” or secrecy involved.

The claim made by this paper is that the US Government has systematically lied about whether or not autism, per se, is caused by vaccines.

If, in fact, the symptoms of brain injured kids who were compensated by the vaccine court are not consistent with autism AS DESCRIBED IN THE DSM, then the investigators are incorrect in their conclusions.

On the other hand, if the symptoms ARE identical with autism AS DESCRIBED IN THE DSM, then further investigation MAY be warranted.


May 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm
(26) David Taylor says:

Lisa–you are dead wrong when you say the paper suggests a “cover up.” The paper simply says this:

This preliminary study suggests that the VICP has been
compensating cases of vaccine-­induced encephalopathy and
residual seizure disorder associated with autism since the
inception of the program. Through this preliminary study, the authors have found eighty-­three cases of autism among those compensated for vaccine-­induced brain damage.

This assessment of compensated cases showing an
association between vaccines and autism is not, and does not purport to be, science. In no way does it explain scientific causation or even necessarily undermine the reasoning of the decisions in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding based on the scientific theories and medical evidence before the VICP. Nor does this article have anything to say about state childhood immunization mandates in general.

This finding raises fundamental questions about the integrity, transparency, and fairness of this forum.

Where do you see “cover up” in that?

If you’re desperate enough to be making this kind of statement, maybe you shouldn’t be writing on this topic at all.

May 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm
(27) autism says:

David, I’m pretty much the LEAST desperate person you’ll find writing about this subject (who also has a child with autism).

Here’s where I see “cover-up” -

“This finding raises fundamental questions about the integrity, transparency, and fairness of this forum.”

Obviously, this is saying “the Vaccine Court has no integrity, is hiding information, and is behaving in an unjust manner.”

If you prefer to use a different word than “cover-up”, feel free – but IMO this is a pretty straightforward accusation!


May 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm
(28) Sandy says:

When it comes to ‘autism’, there is nothing true about damaged beyond repair. Very few with autism never progress. Most do.
I’m not sure who wouldn’t want to know if this truly was autism or not. Many things do mimic autism.

May 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm
(29) WhiteandNerdy says:

Hi Lisa,

You had such a nice run of blog entries–I especially liked the one about marathon running.

And then, like a hydra, this nonsense comes back again.

Here is a link to the text:

Summary: a bunch of attorneys who make money suing vaccine companies do a two year data crunching exercise.

Not a statistician/mathematician/anyone trained in quantative analysis in sight–almost as if they didn’t want to do the study correctly…

Besides failing to get the law correct, or the facts correct, or to follow the logic, or the medical concepts…

If you cut through the fluff to their actual data, they found that a little over 1% of compensated cases were subsequently diagnosed with autism.

A shocking discovery! One that is only right in line with what one would expect by chance.

This review is (to be very kind) abject rubbish and is literally being laughed at.

All that is left now is for the anti’s to complain and to avoid any attempt at critically evaluating the review.


May 11, 2011 at 9:46 am
(30) MaryAnn says:

Ok Everybody, Autism aside– Why are we giving our children vaccines that cause brain damage?!!! There has got to be a safer way. Just breaking down the dosages into more smaller amounts helps. So why aren’t we doing this for everyone?

May 11, 2011 at 9:53 am
(31) Lisa says:

Actually, so far as I know, while it makes COMMON SENSE to break down the vaccines into smaller doses, there’s not any evidence I’m aware of that this makes a difference relative to negative reactions.

Still, as I think anyone would agree, it makes very good sense to carefully examine the vaccine program and make improvements to ensure safety.

It’s important to note, though, that no medical intervention is absolutely risk free.


May 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm
(32) autism says:

On a wholly unrelated topic – seeing the number of men posting here, I thought I’d make you aware that I’m inviting autism dads to submit guest blogs for Father’s Day! Here’s a link to the info I just posted: http://autism.about.com/b/2011/05/10/autism-dads-submit-your-guest-blogs-for-fathers-day.htm.

Thanks all!


May 11, 2011 at 1:37 am
(33) Twyla says:

Lisa asked, “Was the term ‘autism’ ever used to describe the outcome of vaccine damage (eg, ‘the child suffered from neurological damage resulting in autism’)?”

The point is, the vaccine court refuses to say that vaccines cause autism. Parents have much more chance of winning their case if they do not allege autism and instead allege conditions such as encephalopathy and seizures. There is apparently tremendous fear of opening the door to huge numbers of autism cases.

This was discussed here:

May 11, 2011 at 2:37 am
(34) Twyla says:

re: “The federal government’s vaccine-compensation fund has also paid lots of money to children who end up being left-handed — but that doesn’t mean that vaccines causes their left-handedness.”

Yes, one often hears statements like this. People say, “Well, we ate at McDonald’s (or got a haircut or wore a blue shirt) right before he regressed into autism. But don’t confuse correlation with causation!”

The thing is, there is so much more than just one simple coincidence. There are so many correlations.

• Autism rate increased exponentially at same time as the vaccine schedule expanded exponentially over past 20 years.

• Parents from various times and places report vaccine reactions followed by loss of language and social skills and regression into autism, sometimes with seizures, bowel disease, and other medical conditions.

• Carlos Pardo et al published a study in the Archives of Neurology showing neuroglial activation and neuroinflammation in autopsied brains, and inflammatory cytokine markers in the CSF of individuals with Autism http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15546155

• Dr. Anne Comi and Dr. Andy Zimmerman found increased prevalence of autoimmune disease in families of children with autism (a susceptibility factor?)

• VK Singh found elevated antibodies to the myelin basic protein coating nerve cells in people with autism. w w w . ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7682457

• Vaccine package inserts list nervous system adverse reactions such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), encephalopathy (brain injury or disease), Guillain-Barré Syndrome, convulsions/seizures, ataxia, polyneuritis, & polyneuropathy. w w w . merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/m/mmr_ii/mmr_ii_pi.pdf

So, this isn’t just some random association. The purpose of vaccines is to stimulate the immune system. There is a large immune system component in autism. And we know that vaccines can affect the brain and nervous system.

May 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm
(35) Twyla says:

A good interview here:
Vaccine-autism link: New investigation

May 12, 2011 at 8:24 am
(36) Martha says:

Great topic. The discussion itself gives evidence to the need for more research into the nature and definition and prevalence of autism itself. And a more research into vaccine induced injuries.
I would assume from your questions in the previous post that you do support more research into the autism vaccine issue, Lisa.
I agree. We can’t settle the argument with a few flimsy studies. We need thorough studies in this area. I don’t care who does the research as long as their methods are sound and can be replicated. I think it is unfair to automatically assume that someone’s research isn’t solid based on their connections or even motives. That should only give us a tip off as to what their bias might be. I think the NIMH should follow up on this one and research it themselves and publish their results.
At this point in time I think one can hardly argue that vaccines cause certain behaviours (autism) very well. We need more of a biological understanding of autism and of how immunizations (including their adjuvants which are frequently used as the placebos in trials) work. So far I don’t think the current findings surrounding the biology of autism dismiss a link to vaccines at all but rather raise more questions. We will probably not be able to soundly argue prevalence rates until we have developed a biological test for autism.
At this time we can only do a lot of speculating. My speculation is that it is possible for vaccines to cause autism in a child and that, that has probably happened but I am not comfortable beleiving that vaccines have caused a significant increase in cases of autism. I think it is possible, but I haven’t seen strong enough evidence yet. I’ve got to wait and see what all research brings to the table before I can make that judgement.

May 12, 2011 at 8:45 am
(37) Lisa says:

I think this topic has been covered, very thoroughly, in all directions. I am now closing comments on this thread.

Please feel free, men, to take part in the Father’s Day Guest Blog Festival (knowing that I am interested in your personal reflections, not in political manifestos).

Please feel free, everyone, to return to comment on other topics or – in the best of worlds – to add helpful insights into issues confronting families every day.


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