Friday, September 28, 2012

The Obsessions of Antivaxxers

I often wonder why some antivaxxers seem to be so obsessed with posting information about vaccines.  It isn't as if it is merely a matter of sharing information or merely a hobby, but rather it appears to be what defines many of them.  I can understand when a parent feels a vaccine harmed their child that they would react to their situation.  I can also understand someone standing behind a cause and supporting it with their words and actions.  I can even understand someone devoting themselves to an action which they feel has merit.

However when someone spends the vast majority of their time each and every day on the Internet scouring anti-vaccine websites and posting comments to countless stories and articles about vaccines, and when someone essentially ignores the world around them due to their obsession it stops being about a cause and starts becoming nothing short of an obsession.

Recently, a local antivaxxer Lowell Hubbs posted the following status update to his Facebook page, and it serves as one example of what happens when someone becomes so obsessed with an issue that they essentially forget about the life around them.

Now I am not about to claim I have any idea what was going on here, but I did check the Sioux Falls Police Department Call Log and was unable to find anything that relates to Mr. Hubbs around the date he posted his update, so for all I know Mr. Hubbs is once again making up details.

I do know that the Police Department doesn't typically serve eviction notices, and they don't typically take the Fire Department along for good measure, so why Mr. Hubbs is stating they joined the Minnehaha County Sheriff (who would typically handle evictions) is beyond me.

Of course I would expect if someone was serving me with an eviction notice I might step away from the computer instead of updating my Facebook status... but to each his own I suppose.  The other question that comes to mind is why these agencies would be involved in serving just a notice.  Per SDCL 21-16-2, typically a landlord would serve the first notice of eviction, and if the resident isn't home they are allowed to post the notice at the residence, so law enforcement is not needed.  It is only when the resident refuses to leave that they bother to seek a judgement at which point the Sheriff becomes involved to force the resident to leave the property.

So the question remains - why would law enforcement visit Mr. Hubbs if it was not to serve an eviction notice?  As with most stories told by Mr. Hubbs, I'm guessing there is a lot more to this one than what he claims, and his words cannot be fully trusted.  Nevertheless, Mr. Hubbs did add a bit of detail in a follow-up Facebook posting.

Let's be clear here - I'm not accusing Mr. Hubbs of having any outstanding warrants, nor am I accusing him of any nefarious activity.  I'm not sure who Mr. Hubbs was speaking with when he posted this, but considering there weren't any other comments on his earlier post other than the one shown I suppose it is possible he was merely speaking to (or arguing with) himself.  I suspect we aren't getting the full story here, but even if it is true that Mr. Hubbs is merely being evicted I can only hope he lands on his feet and finds another residence soon (if he hasn't already).

What troubles me is that I see a pattern of behavior here that seems all too common with antivaxxers.  They seem to have no significant life outside of their time on the Internet or their time on the anti-vaccine seminar circuit.  They can't be troubled by pesky details like finding gainful employment, obtaining degrees from legitimate post-secondary institutions, completing research studies, finishing residencies, or in some cases even minor details like paying the rent.

I have also noticed a pattern where many of the most prolific and predominant non-medical antivaxxers are either stay-at-home parents, unemployed or underemployed, and/or they are on disability.  Is it simply a matter of these people having too much time on their hands, or is there a deeper connection here?  I simply cannot understand why the anti-vaccine movement seems to attract so many people who, at least on the surface, appear to suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Beyond the obvious symptoms of OCD, I am left wondering about the other mental health aspects of this type of behavior.  Is the obsession really about vaccines themselves or is there something else at play here?  As mentioned previously, I could understand a parent reacting to vaccines if they felt their child was harmed by them.  Even if a parent is confusing correlation and causation, I can still understand the desire to find answers and it isn't a stretch to see how they would latch on to some of the views that are central to the anti-vaccination platform.  

However, when someone who has no family and has no direct experience with vaccines suddenly and inexplicably expresses an interest in children, and when they appear to lack significant, meaningful relationships with adults in their life, and when they seem to often discuss subject matter involving physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of children I'll admit it concerns me.  In fact, if you look at common psychological profile for a child predator you find many of these exact traits.  Although this doesn't directly have any connection to vaccines, this is a subject we have discussed in the past, and based upon some information recently provided to me it appears we will be discussing it again in the near future.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Does the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Protect Vaccine Manufacturers?

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was developed in the 1980s to ensure a steady supply of vaccines were available and to prevent vaccine manufacturers from exiting the market due to rising litigation costs.  Some antivaxxers claim this was nothing more than a handout to the vaccine manufacturers because once the VICP was in place there was a higher burden of proof in order to "win" a vaccine injury lawsuit.  They also claim the VICP has allowed the vaccine manufacturers to make billions in profits with no risk since they are legally protected from vaccine injury lawsuits.

Is there any truth to these claims?  Not really.  

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), "In the early 1980s, news reports of serious side effects from the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine caused some to question the safety of the vaccine.  Parents began filing many lawsuits against vaccine companies, doctors, and nurses.  Some vaccine companies decided to stop making vaccines, which created vaccine shortages and threatened the Nation’s health.

All of these problems led a group of doctors, public health organizations, vaccine companies and private citizens to encourage Congress to enact a new law to compensate those found to be injured by childhood vaccines. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-660) created the VICP, which began on October 1, 1988."

The truth is, in many ways the VICP made it easier for people to file claims, because it isn't a requirement to be a US citizen, and in some cases a citizen who receives a vaccine outside of the US can still file a claim with the VICP.  A claim can also be filed even if a vaccine was used in an off-label manner and even if the vaccine was administered against administration recommendations.  A claim can even be filed for a vaccine which isn't even licensed in the United States.  In a traditional lawsuit prior to the VICP, many of these things would have made compensation of an injury much more difficult if not entirely impossible.

Also, assuming some very minimal requirements are met, the VICP will pay legal fees and lawyer's fees related to the claim even if the claim is ultimately denied.  Previously in civil court proceedings, if a claim was rejected, the person who filed the claim would most often be responsible for their legal fees, thus this was a huge benefit to those who have filed claims.  In some cases, the risk of having to pay excessive legal fees could serve as a barrier preventing many people from filing lawsuits surrounding their injuries.

In addition to this, the VICP does not require a person specifically prove that the vaccine caused an injury.  Although the VICP does include injury as one of the criteria, an injured person can alternatively claim that the vaccine merely made an existing injury worse.  The VICP also includes an option for an injured person to merely prove they had a symptom of an injury within a specific time period - but they do not actually need to prove that symptom was caused by the vaccine alone.  The "vaccine injury table" simplifies the process in many cases because it includes a list of conditions which are presumed to be caused by vaccines.  This isn't to say these are the only conditions that may be caused, but in many ways this is a "fast track" to simplify the process for a person who feels he or she has been injured by a vaccine.

In summary, the VICP doesn't require a higher burden of proof than would exist in a civil lawsuit, and it is actually quite the opposite.  Within the VICP, a person can claim they were injured and provided their injury is legitimate and provided they filed their claim within the required time period, they have a much easier chance of winning the case than they would have under the rules of a traditional civil lawsuit.

Also, it is very important to clear up one major misconception with the VICP.  The VICP itself does not prevent a vaccine-injured person from suing the vaccine manufacturer or even the person who administered the vaccine.  In some cases it may be necessary to file with the VICP first, but regardless of the outcome of that case a person who feels he or she was injured by a vaccine can still file a civil lawsuit against the vaccine manufacturer, healthcare system, doctor, nurse, or anyone else involved in the process.

What the VICP does is offer a streamlined process to handle vaccine injury cases.  It reduces costs for both parties and helps to reduce the costs of frivolous lawsuits from unscrupulous lawyers who would seek millions in compensation for symptoms they couldn't even link to vaccines in the hopes the vaccine manufacturer would offer to settle out of court just to make them go away.  It also earmarks funds from each vaccine ($0.75 per dose) which are held in the vaccine injury compensation trust fund and are used to compensate victims or those who file claims against the VICP.

Of course the VICP isn't perfect, but clearly it is better than forcing vaccine manufacturers out of business due to legal threats, and it helps ensure a supply of life-saving vaccines are available to anyone who wants them.  One major issue with the VICP might just be how easily some lawyers have taken advantage of the "pay no matter the outcome" design of the VICP.  

For example, many lawyers specialize in "vaccine injury" cases because they understand whether the client wins or loses in court, the lawyer's fees will still be paid by the VICP.  In these cases, there is zero risk to the lawyer because he or she knows their fees will be covered.  This isn't like a civil lawsuit where if the claimant loses the case there will be no money to pay for legal fees... so in essence this is a guarantee for the lawyers.

In fact, since the original claims were filed in the late 80s, $2.3 Billion has been paid to the claimants themselves, but over $91.5 Billion has been paid to cover attorney's fees and other legal costs.  Thus for every dollar coming out of the VICP, only 2.5 cents goes to the actual "injured" party, while 97.5 cents goes to lawyers and to fees.  Perhaps even more interesting is for the VICP claims that were denied, over $49.6 Billion has been paid to cover attorney's fees and other legal costs.  This is $49.6 Billion that most likely would have never been paid under the rules of a traditional civil case.

As you can see even when the lawyers lose... they actually win.  It seems that if the VICP is a handout to anyone... it isn't the vaccine manufacturers - it is trial lawyers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Genetic Test For Autism Developed By Australian Scientists: HuffPo

An article posted yesterday at the Huffington Post states "Australian scientists have developed a genetic test Molecular Psychiatry and they cover 237 genetic markers.
to predict autism spectrum disorder in children".  The findings were published in the journal

It is probably a good idea to reserve judgement until these findings can be verified and replicated, but if this holds true it could be a breakthrough on the path to find the actual cause(s) of autism itself.  Granted the study can only claim a 70% accuracy when predicting autism, but the fact they were able to identify specific genetic markers is promising, and in time the accuracy will most likely be vastly improved.

This type of research can help identify at-risk children far sooner in life which in turn can allow treatments to begin earlier in the child's life.  Early detection and treatment can make all the difference when it comes to autism, so this type of research can be invaluable.

The question now becomes - how can anti-vaccinationists spin this study to blame vaccines for autism?  It doesn't seem likely that they will suggest that vaccines are responsible for the manipulation of genetic code in a small child, thus I can think of two excuses we can expect to see from the antivaxxer community.

Number one, antivaxxers will claim that vaccines work in conjunction with these genetic markers to "trigger" autism in children.  This is an interesting theory of course, but it will be as equally interesting to see the data and research which supports this hypothesis.  Needless to say I can almost hear the antivaxxer community scurrying to come up with something - anything - they can use to suggest this is plausible.

Number two, antivaxxers will claim that vaccines cause genetic mutations which are then passed on to the offspring of those people who received vaccinations in the past.  Thus if two adults are fully vaccinated and they produce offspring, the child would then reflect these genetic markers that put him or her at risk for autism.  Again it will be interesting to see the science that shows the vaccination status of the parents if antivaxxers wish to push this theory.

Granted there could be several more excuses that I couldn't even begin to guess, but the one thing I am certain about is that the antivaxxers will NOT come out and claim that autism is a genetic disorder with no connection to vaccines... because that would be allowing the science to steer their views rather than backing into an opinion by discrediting the science.  The truth is, if we all let science guide our views rather than making assumptions, there would be no such thing as an antivaxxer in the first place.  However since that isn't the case, it is safe to assume this study will be ignored and overlooked by the antivaxxer community, just as all of the previous research that has shown a strong genetic component to autism has been ignored and/or manipulated.

Full article here:  Genetic Test For Autism Developed By Australian Scientists

Update 9/14/12:  As predicted, antivaxxers such as Lowell Hubbs have complained that I didn't link to the actual study, and therefore Mr. Hubbs has suggested I didn't actually bother to read it.  Obviously that is quite an assumption on the part of Mr. Hubbs, although true to form he is one again incorrect.

I didn't realize I had to spoon feed the anti-vaccinationists by giving them direct links therefore eliminating the confusion caused by using a search bar, but to humor Mr. Hubbs I'll go ahead and provide the link here.  Please note that eventually this study will most likely not be available for free viewing, and as such the link may stop working (which is why I didn't include it originally and instead merely linked to the journal which published the study).  However for the time being you may read the original study at the link below:

Molecular Psychiatry: Predicting the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder using gene pathway analysis

When the study is no longer available (aka: open) on the website, you should still be able to read the abstract by searching for the title of the study above and/or the primary author's name: Professor Christos Pantelis.

I should also note that Mr. Hubbs claims this study "actually in fact directly supports the ASD/Vaccine connection".  I of course predicted antivaxxers would take this route, but of course aside from his opinion Mr. Hubbs can offer no evidence to support this statement.  In fact, the study itself makes no reference to vaccines at all, and the term "vaccine" is found nowhere within the text of the study.  This is yet another example of antivaxxers seeing what they wish to see, with no time spent understanding the science, the methods, or the output of many hours of effort.  If anyone didn't bother to read a study, I'm guessing it was Mr. Hubbs as I can see not other explanation behind such a severe misunderstanding of the content.

The reality is the study surrounds genetic variants and the ability to predict autism and other autism spectrum disorders.  It has to do with genetic classification and prediction - nothing more.  The researchers did not in any way broach the subject of what "causes" autism, but rather they are focused upon detection methods.  Much more must be done to expand upon this data to learn the root causes of the genetic markers identified within this study, but we are a long, long way from being able to make any statements pertaining to causation.

Far be it from an antivaxxer to wait until the science leads them down a path before they proudly proclaim they have all the answers.  In the mind of an antivaxxer like Lowell Hubbs, research can be interpreted any number of ways... provided all of those ways result in someone or something blaming vaccines for autism.