NYAS: March 28 Vaccine Event

Image Courtesy CDCPlease join the New York Academy of Sciences for “Vaccines under the Gun: Politics, Science, Media and the Law,” taking place on Monday, March 28 (1:00 PM – 5:00 PM) at the New York Academy of Sciences conference center in New York City. Esteemed speakers Paul Offit, MD (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Dan Thomasch (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe) and Trine Tsouderos (Chicago Tribune) will examine historical approaches to vaccination, the evolution and use of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, community-wide and personal safety considerations, social implications of these decisions, and the impact of recent legal cases (CHOP vs Health Care Workers Union 1199, AFL-CIO; Bruesewitz vs Wyeth). Perri Klass, MD (New York University) will moderate a panel discussion. This symposium is presented by the New York Academy of Sciences’ Vaccine Science Discussion Group.

Further information and registration details can be found at www.nyas.org/VaccineLaw

Offit and Tsouderos conducted a webchat on March 22; you can view the archive of the question/answer session here.

Abstracts of the individual talks are below (from the New York Academy of Sciences)

Requiring Influenza Vaccine for Healthcare Workers: One Hospital’s Experience

Paul Offit, MD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

In 2009, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia required all healthcare workers (approximately 9,400 employees) to receive an influenza vaccine. If workers refused, they were given two weeks of unpaid leave to reconsider their decision. If they still refused, their employment was terminated. Nine employees chose to lose their jobs, five of whom were members of a local healthcare workers union. Members of the union filed a complaint which was arbitrated in May 2010 with a decision rendered in September 2010 in favor of the hospital. Events that led to the influenza vaccine mandate and the subsequent fallout will be discussed.

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Lesson in Unintended Consequences

Dan Thomasch, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, NY

The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (“the Act”) was intended to create a streamlined compensation program for the small number of children who suffer serious adverse events from vaccines, and to ensure an uninterrupted supply of vaccines by reducing the litigation risks facing vaccine manufacturers. The Act was passed at the height of media-driven litigation about the supposed risks of whole-cell DTP vaccines, and was intended to move vaccine injury claims out of the traditional court system and into an administrative setting in which claims are brought against HHS (not manufacturers) and awards are paid out of a fund that is maintained through a small per-dose surtax on childhood vaccines. Under the Vaccine Act, individual compensation claims proceed largely out of the public eye, allowing compensation decisions to be accompanied by far less sensationalism than typically surrounds civil litigation. For 15 years, the Act largely accomplished these goals, but the situation changed markedly in 2001-2002, when anti-vaccine advocates, united through the internet, began their campaign to link vaccines and autism, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. Over much of the last decade, anti-vaccine advocates have fought their battle on two fronts; in the media and in Vaccine Court, where thousands of petitioners asserting autism to be a vaccine-related injury have advanced their general causation theories through the trial of ‘test cases’ in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding. In the process, Vaccine Court has been transformed into a forum for junk science about an alleged epidemic of vaccine-induced autism.

Although the Vaccine Court largely succeeded in separating separate scientific fact from politicized fiction to conclude that there is no credible scientific evidence linking vaccines and autism, that Court’s uniform rejection of petitioners’ general causation theories in the autism test cases has had the unintended effect of making it more likely that vaccine manufacturers will again face a deluge of product liability claims in state courts. Additionally, the ill-advised settlement of one individual claim by HHS provided fuel to anti-vaccine media outlets. Whether state courts will become again a forum for baseless claims of vaccine-related injuries depends in large part on the outcome of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, Inc., a preemption case argued in the Supreme Court of the United States in October 2010. The implications of a decision in that case will be significant not only for vaccine manufacturers, but for childhood public health in the United States.

Vaccine Roulette: Why the Media Got it Wrong

Trine Tsouderos, Chicago Tribune

Much of the blame for the vaccine panic has been placed on Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced British researcher whose fraudulent, and now retracted, 1998 study in The Lancet linked autism with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. But Wakefield’s small study, published in a medical journal, would never have reached the public without the help of the media, which, for the next dozen years, helped spread the fear of vaccines far and wide, resulting in a crumbling herd immunity in some communities, and the resurgence of dangerous childhood diseases like measles and Hib. How did the media get it wrong, and why? Tsouderos will talk about the history of the current vaccine scare, which started not with Wakefield, but with a network television segment titled, “Vaccine Roulette,” that scared a generation of parents and helped launch the modern anti-vaccine movement. Tsouderos will also talk about the journalistic convention of “balance” and why it is fine for reporting on people’s opinions about the mayor, but misleading and outright dangerous when reporting about medical issues. She will also talk about a turning of the tide on vaccine reporting as media outlets, from Salon to CNN, that have gotten it wrong begin to get it right.