Vaccine injury stories: the sacred cows of the internet?

When I first started looking into vaccines, I had no idea that an anti-vaccine movement even existed.  I came across claims that the vaccines were toxic and dangerous; the diseases were not. I have some background in science, so I was able to dismiss those claims as inaccurate, but I couldn’t help but be drawn in by tragic, angry and deeply personal stories from parents who claimed their children were harmed by vaccines.

We wouldn’t be human if we were not affected by others’ personal and emotional experiences.  And when these parents said that they saw their child deteriorate “with their own eyes” and other people were lapping up these stories, unopposed, I was quietly horrified.   I watched on as the stories were being shared and reshared amidst a sea of sympathy and a rage-against-the-authority kind of validation.  These people were telling me they had vaccinated their children in good faith, but had suffered for it.  This made me feel as if I owed them something akin to instant respect because they’d vaccinated their child “for the greater good” and had “taken one for the team.”

But according to everything I knew, vaccines were relatively safe and effective.  I dared not question these vaccine injury stories, but I still couldn’t understand…

If all of these vaccine injuries were occurring on a massive scale, why wasn’t anybody doing anything about it? And why wasn’t the media reporting on them?

Now I know what it feels like when your child is really sick, but I can only imagine how it feels to lose a child.  I am an empathetic person but I hope I never experience that. I wanted to know more about these vaccine injury stories but worried it would be insensitive to probe or question their accuracy. I could hurt their feelings or worse, insult their child’s memory.

But something wasn’t right, and I started to squirm with the conflicting information, the inaccuracies.

I thought about how grief and the depths of pain could drive you to the ends of the earth to search for answers or something to blame.  I thought about how, without some medical knowledge one could misunderstand how and why these events actually happened; or worse – they may never get a precise answer.  I also thought about how grief channelled in the wrong direction can be irrational and unhealthy.  Could some of these stories actually be a gigantic misunderstanding?

I used to think these vaccine injury stories were the sacred cows of the internet.  But false or misrepresented stories can do irreparable damage.  I am not saying there is a deliberate intent to mislead people – they simply don’t know what they don’t know.

But if we allow such stories to circulate without question, we could be empowering a faulty-thinking process and perpetuating a negative cycle of grief-and-misdirected-blame.  If we accept the story at face value we give credence to it.  Does that make us part of the spread of misinformation? 

 

Now I never want to tell a grieving parent how they should think, feel or behave and I never want to diminish their feelings or experiences.  Many of them were absolutely convinced that their child was injured by vaccines.  But a lot simply didn’t stack up.  There were misunderstandings about dosage and toxicity, medical misconceptions, huge leaps or gaps in logic and clumsy attempts to explain what happened in terms they didn’t seem to comprehend.  Many were simply implausible or impossible.

Without any of the medical information, it would be foolish of me to presume anything.  But I began to gently ask questions and with the information given, I set about trying to find real answers from doctors and scientists that I knew.  In my personal quest for the ‘truth” only a handful of stories were very highly likely to be real vaccine injuries of a serious nature.  The rest were utterly impossible or could be explained by something else, something far more likely.  Some were indeterminable.

I have never personally known anyone who was injured by vaccines.  So I got to thinking: how often do vaccine injuries actually occur, in real life?  There must be an official database of them somewhere?

If you ask the parents of alleged vaccine injured children they are in VAERS – America’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. 

Other countries have their own reporting system – in Australia we have the TGA Database of Adverse Event Notifications.

But these databases are essentially a collection of unverified reports.  That means these reports have not yet been medically assessed.  They are not determined as causal and are not proof of real injury numbers.

Both VAERS and The TGA Database carry warnings to this effect:  “In accessing the database we encourage consumers to understand that a report of an adverse event does not necessarily indicate there is a causal link between a medicine and an adverse outcome.”

That’s right.  They may not even be connected.  One of the more well-known examples of how any unrelated event can make it into VAERS was Dr. James Laidler’s report that the influenza vaccine turned him into the Incredible Hulk.

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You Tube videos were also presented to me as “evidence” but they are not proof of anything either. Anecdotal reports – VAERS, YouTube, rumours, a friend’s cousin’s hairdresser’s aunt’s version of events – they’re all unreliable.  And so is an unqualified and inexperienced parent trying to do medical diagnosis without really understanding the process – no matter how earnest and well meaning they are.  

Real vaccine injuries are recorded.  You or your doctor can report the injury and if it’s serious, so begins a public health investigation.  They are not overlooked.  They are not covered up.  If anything, they are sought after.  Vaccine safety is taken extremely seriously by vaccine manufacturers and the medical establishment.  Even researchers go looking for vaccine injury reports: sometimes they are written up in the medical literature as a case study.

Only after reports have been medically analysed can they be confirmed as real vaccine injuries, and these cases contribute to offical vaccine statistics as legitimate risk of reactions.

This study of VAERS data showed that less than 3% of adverse reaction reports from vaccines are actually found to be related to the vaccine.  Further, when the data of the verified vaccine reactions were scrutinised, the majority of them were of a minor nature such as a low grade fever or soreness at the injection site.  When you do the real numbers, the risk of serious vaccine injury is magnitudes less than 1%.  

Some of the vaccine injury stories I encountered were downright impossible.  For example, SIDS and Shaken Baby Syndrome were being blamed on vaccines, when in fact a meta analysis of the medical literature shows that immunisations are associated with halving the risk of SIDS and Shaken Baby syndrome is an abusive head trauma, not a vaccine injury.

Actually, most of the vaccine injuries commonly discussed by vaccine critics had absolutely no connection other than co-incidental timing with the administration of the vaccine.

For example, I read about parents who believed that pneumonia, a middle ear infection, a cough or cold, eczema, asthma, autism, epilepsy and other unrelated conditions were “vaccine injuries” simply because their child had one of these things happen or diagnosed around the same time as their jabs.  One woman was convinced that a flu shot gave her endometriosis. Impossible.

Then there were some genetic conditions, such as epilepsy or autism, which tend to pop up early in a child’s development and may co-incide with vaccination.  But these things occur in children with or without vaccinations. 

Vaccine reactions are known and have been well established through years of documentation, research, reporting, monitoring and analysing.  A parent’s anecdote is meaningful in terms of gathering symptoms,  but thorough and objective medical and scientific assessment is needed to make the diagnosis.

True vaccine injuries of a serious nature are exceptionally rare.  We can tell they are real when they’ve been medically confirmed or published in peer-reviewed, credible medial journals.  They are so rare we usually hear about them in the media and remember them by name.  These kinds of cases should be swiftly and generously compensated.

For example, American David Salamone  and Jacob McCarthy from Australia both developed paralytic polio from the oral polio vaccine.

Saba Button from Australia developed brain damage after ongoing febrile seizures from CSL’s FluVax. (this vaccine has now been withheld from use in this age-group and has never been used outside of Australia).

Other cases are deemed “causation indeterminable” –  it *may* be possible the vaccine caused it, but we just don’t know.  For example:

Izzy Olesen suffered from Stevens-Johnson syndrome after the DTaP booster.  It was reported by medical staff as a possible vaccine reaction but causation cannot be proved.

Ashley Jade Eparara died within a day of receiving a flu shot, but the coroner could not ascertain the cause of death. (which meant that he could not find a way to positively connect the vaccine to the death, but he was unable to rule it out).

In cases where the death happened some weeks or months after the immunization determining a specific relationship with the vaccination is very difficult.

Some events are so rare, it is impossible to determine whether the vaccine caused it or not.  Other cases are rare, but given other information the possibility of a vaccine injury is not very likely:

For example:  the long-held myth of vaccine encephalopathy was debunked upon the discovery of Dravet’s syndrome.  But there was no trumpeting fanfare, no viral internet sharing when this news came out.

There is a very sad case of baby Ian Gromowski who allegedly died because of the Hepatitis B shot.  However Ian’s mother was induced due to toxemia and pre-eclampsia which indicate a high-risk and complicated pregnancy.   Moreover,  Ian had aspirated meconium prior to birth and was born with a fever indicative of infection.  He was also allergic to an antibiotic he was given.  A complex constellation of potentially fatal factors surrounded his case, all of which cannot be adequately explained by a reaction to the Hepatitis B shot.  In fact, the vaccine most likely had nothing to do with his death whatsoever.

Oscar Duffy’s  mother had the flu shot and DtaP during pregnancy, and tragically Oscar was born still several days later.  His mother thinks the vaccine caused his death,  but Oscar had Down’s Syndrome – which has a high association with spontaneous fetal loss regardless of vaccination status.

Kaylynne Matten died of viral myocarditis in the same week she received a flu shot.  Myocarditis can be caused by many different viruses and it can happen out of the blue in healthy people.  But it would not occur as a result of vaccination with a flu shot which does not contain live influenza virus (the flu jab she had consisted of a killed virus).  The vaccine unfairly cops the blame here just because it happened to occur in close proximity to the myocarditis.

Then there are a collection of reports known as the “Gardasil Girls” which have been given false balance in the media.   Their alleged injuries range from ovarian failure, neurological conditions, meningitis, chronic fatigue, pulmonary embolism, influenza, chronic lyme disease morphing into a vaccine injury and death.  But there is no evidence that these are caused by the vaccine and going on a TV show doesn’t make it true either.  However, there is a mountain of scientific evidence demonstrating the safety of the HPV vaccine.  With more than 50 million doses having been given worldwide with very close safety monitoring, we know that this vaccine is safe.

In fact, when you review the evidence, the rates of major events of concern, namely Guillain-Barré syndrome, autoimmune disorders, transverse myelitis and death, were all exceedingly rare, and not above what one would expect to occur in the normal unvaccinated population. 

Gardasil does not cause premature ovarian failure:

And deaths from Gardasil are a complete lie.

You might have heard that Japan has withdrawn it’s recommendation of the HPV vaccine until it thoroughly investigates reports in its own database of adverse events.  This does not mean that the vaccine is bad and Japan are somehow the only country to have cottoned on to this.  It just says that Japan apply the precautionary principle with regards to all vaccines.  This says more about the Japanese culture than the HPV vaccine itself.  It’s important to note that the vaccine hasn’t been pulled from the market, you can still get the vaccine there.  The recommendation is simply on hold.

Sometimes vaccine critics will use US Vaccine Court injury claims as evidence of harm.  But law courts do not determine causation – medical science does.   In Australia, all claims would need to go through a lengthy civil process.  I think that the VICP in the US makes it very attractive to some people who misunderstand the process and may think they can take advantage of a system designed to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines and efficiently compensate people found to have real vaccine injuries.

If you take a look at the numbers of vaccine reactions, the rate of compensation of vaccine injuries in the American vaccine court means that 99.9999999999999999% of Americans are vaccinated without issue.

And there are many instances where an awarded vaccine court injury doesn’t mean what they think it means:

For example, in the Hannah Poling and Ryan Majobi cases – neither were compensated for autism. 

VICP series Hannah Poling

VICP Ryan Mojabi

Actually vaccines have never caused autism. 

So that leaves us with the downright ridiculous.  There are YouTube videos so fanciful I don’t know whether to cry until I laugh or laugh until I cry.

There is the strange case of Desiree Jennings who began to speak in an Australian accent and developed a very bizarre form of dystonia after the swine flu jab.  As if by magic, her dystonia symptoms would disappear when she walked backwards or ran (or didn’t have a camera around).

A medical analysis by the admitting neurologist concluded “a strong psychogenic component to her symptoms” and “not a reaction to the vaccine”.  Other experts described it as “an elaborate hoax” “this is not dystonia” and “there is no way a vaccine can cause someone’s accent to change”.

Other claims might fool you because upon first reading them, you might believe them to be true.  An example of this was a spate of paralysis in Chad which was not caused by the meningitis vaccine.  Alarming when you read the headline, not so much when you examine the details.

So this is what I think now.  We should politely ask questions whenever we hear or read about a vaccine injury story.  We need have evidence that the harm came from the vaccine, especially if the story comes with a warning that you should not vaccinate your own child.

These are the questions I like to ask when presented with a vaccine injury story.

  1. May I ask why you are so sure it was the vaccine?
  2. Has it been medically confirmed?
  3. Was anything else going on at the time?
  4. Before the vaccine was invented, did this condition exist?
  5. What caused these conditions before the vaccine was invented?
  6. Could it be possible that these things are causing them now?
  7. What is the likelihood that the vaccine caused it vs something else?

In many cases it becomes immediately clear that something else could explain it.  When it comes to a complex medical situation, doctors and other experts are the ones to turn to for an explanation.  And when I’ve had an expert explain them to me, I can honestly say that I have not encountered more than a handful of stories that could not be explained by a far more likely condition or scenario.

So why would a parent still cling to a belief when the medical science concludes otherwise? Perhaps because the emotion surrounding the event cements the conviction firmly in their mind and it’s hard to undo a thought process where emotion overrules logic.

People who don’t have a real vaccine injury and spread myths about them do a great injustice to real vaccine safety advocates; the people who’ve had real vaccine reactions.  They undo the good work that people like David Salamone’s father John have done.

(John Salamone was instrumental in lobbying the US government to switch from oral to injectable polio vaccine.  He still recommends vaccines and recognizes that his son’s reaction is a very rare event.)

We cannot be expected to accept vaccine injury stories without a reasonable explanation of the mechanism of harm.  If you think we should accept all stories at face value, I’m afraid that you’re missing the mark as vaccine safety advocates.

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