How a lawsuit drove the vaccine-autism fraud

Bob Dorigo Jones Senior Fellow, The Center for America
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Parents who have wondered whether they should vaccinate their children because of fears that the vaccines could cause autism will want to read the latest news on this controversial subject.

The British Medical Journal has reported that the researcher whose work sparked widespread fears among parents that vaccines could give their children autism was fraudulent. On top of this, he was paid by plaintiff lawyers to “manufacture” evidence that would fuel lawsuits against the companies making those vaccines.

In an in-depth report, journalist Brian Deer reveals that the alleged link between the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine and autism was concocted by medical researcher Andrew Wakefield. He was working on a lawsuit and cooked up “evidence” to support his case.

The most disturbing effect of this fraud has been to convince many parents that no vaccines of any kind are worth getting for their children. According to one publication, “vaccination levels plunged as low as 80% in the U.K…and in 2008, measles was declared endemic in Britain and Wales.” Infections are surging elsewhere, too. The British Medical Journal article reports that in California last summer, 10 babies died from whooping cough “in the worst outbreak since 1958.”

Last year, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan wrote an excellent commentary for The Daily Caller entitled “The biggest unfounded health scares of 2010” that included the vaccine/autism scandal as one of the ten. Dr. Whelan, who is president of the American Council on Science and Health, noted that “Vaccines have had a profound beneficial effect on public health by drastically reducing the amount of death and disability from infectious diseases,” and that “the vast majority of reports that link vaccines to serious health maladies do not meet the scientific criteria necessary to attribute causality.”

So, how do we prevent junk science from creating widespread fears that have such an enormous impact on public health? One way is to make it more difficult to file lawsuits based on fraudulent medical claims. In other words, remove the profit incentive the plaintiffs’ bar now has to create these scares.

In my home state of Michigan, there is a law that provides limited legal protection to pharmaceutical companies once their medicine has won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The law was enacted because lawsuits based on unproven medical theories (or worse, fraudulent deception) can unfairly increase the cost of medicine and rob patients of medicine they want and need. These lawsuits can also motivate people to make decisions about their health (and the health of loved ones) that are detrimental to their health.

Because of junk science and meritless lawsuits, pregnant women in the United States have been denied a prescription drug that could relieve their morning sickness symptoms. Very few people know this, but a pregnant woman reading this today who is suffering through morning sickness could be cured of her misery by taking a medicine called Bendectin. Unfortunately, the drug was taken off the market in the U.S. after lawyers used faulty medical conclusions to sue the company that makes it. The medicine is widely used in Canada and Europe, but not in our lawsuit-happy nation.

It’s time to let medical science guide the decisions we make about the medicine and vaccines that are vital to our health. It’s time for the courts to take a tough stand against junk science, and it’s long past time to get the truth about the vaccine/autism fraud to the public.

Bob Dorigo Jones, who serves as Senior Fellow for the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, is the author of the bestselling Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever. He is the host of a new national radio/Internet commentary, “Let’s Be Fair.”