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December 02, 2004
Federal vaccine compensation
An L.A. Times story by Myron Levin on the federal vaccine compensation program (with sidebar) uncritically relays assorted gripes by claimants and their lawyers against the program. Among them:
* Despite talk of the vaccine compensation program as a form of no-fault, cases in which causation or damages are disputed may be expensive, protracted and adversarial (true without doubt; but is all the adversarialism really getting into the process from the defense side, as the article implies?);
* The federal government has mostly declined to pay for the category of cases where kids are vaccinated and subsequently fall sick but causation is not established (a potentially big category, no? -- especially given the campaign to blame vaccines for autism. No discussion of this point either);
* Federal officials have tightened guidelines for imputing causation over the years, reflecting what they say is an evolving consensus that vaccines are not causing some injuries it was once thought they might be causing (the article does its best to depict such a position as mean-spirited, while failing to marshal evidence that such an estimate of the scientific consensus is not, in fact, correct).
The sidebar characterizes, as an example of "hard-nosed tactics" by the government, the switch of a key expert witness on DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccines from the plaintiff's to the defense side, based on what he said was the evolving state of the science. It's hardly unknown for experts to switch sides from one set of cases to the next, however. The article presents not a particle of evidence that there was anything improper about the evolution of Dr. Manuel Gomez's views -- and indeed, as it concedes, both the vaccine court and a federal appeals court rejected claims of any such impropriety. In light of which, it's remarkable that the L.A. Times would sympathetically relay a charge from a plaintiff's lawyer that Gomez's switch resulted from -- a serious matter -- "witness tampering". (via Peter Nordberg).
Posted by Walter Olson at 12:02 AM
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