Last April, ILR President Lisa A. Rickard published an op-ed in Forbes, entitled, The Anti-Vaccine Movement And A Trial Lawyer-Funded Climate Of Fear. Given the current spotlight and national debate concerning vaccines, and the recent measles outbreak, we thought it timeline to re-post her April 2014 piece in its entirety:
The most savvy plaintiffs’ lawyers understand that in order to create new fields of litigation, up-front investments are often required. So for those looking for the next big payday, what does $665,000 get you? For starters, a British medical journal study that claims to establish a link between vaccinations and autism.
A 1998 article in the medical journal The Lancet caused a firestorm of controversy when it was published, and helped create the anti-vaccine movement that continues today. There’s only one problem — the article was later retracted by the publisher for being “utterly false,” and the author, Andrew Wakefield, was found to have been paid big bucks by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Brian Deer, investigative journalist for London’s The Sunday Times wrote that Wakefield, “Was paid more than £400,000 ($665,000) by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe.”
The article wasn’t simply retracted. Wakefield lost his medical license in Great Britain and the country’s General Medical Council chair, Dr. Surendra Kumar, said that Wakefield had “brought the medical profession into disrepute” through “multiple separate instances of professional misconduct.”
The retraction, revelations and sanctions against Wakefield may have halted the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ attempt at more lawsuits, but the combination of bad science, celebrity endorsements, and general fear have convinced too many parents that vaccinations are more dangerous for their children than the diseases they protect against. The damage was done.
An article in Time magazine this month reports that in the last three months, measles outbreaks have occurred among school children in Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and California. This, despite measles having been declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.
According to a December USA Today article, the U.S. saw 175 confirmed cases of measles and 20 hospitalizations in 2012 — three times the normal annual amount. 98% of those measles patients were unvaccinated.
Even though the vaccination-autism link was thoroughly discredited, the fear persists because of clueless celebrity endorsers, like former Playboy model and current host of “The View”, Jenny McCarthy. Earlier this month, MTV reality star and wife of Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler, Kristen Cavallari, made headlines by telling an interviewer that she refuses to vaccinate their child.
As a mother, I sympathize with moms like Cavallari, who simply want the best for their children. But seeing how today’s children are contracting diseases thought to be problems of an era long past, I know that vaccinations save lives.
But what opponents of vaccinations might not understand is how they’ve been duped by the trial-lawyer industry. Deer made this point explicitly, telling CNN that Wakefield was, “falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare.”
Why would the trial lawyers have to go through this trouble and expense to help fund the Wakefield report? As Forbes columnist Daniel Fisher writes, the report was meant to provide ammunition for plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking to circumvent a 1986 U.S. law that prevented lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers in standard courts (and instead creating more-stringent vaccine courts).
In other words, Fisher explains, the vaccination-autism link was a “legal theory in search of science” used by some trial lawyers to “help fuel” a “wave of litigation in the U.S.” against the vaccine manufacturers.
Though the legal threat is gone, the anti-vaccination movement is as loud as ever. And it’s not just the unvaccinated at risk. The growing number of unvaccinated Americans threatens “herd immunity,” which is achieved when a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to a particular infectious disease. That’s how polio was defeated decades ago.
The $665,000 plaintiffs’ lawyer investment was lost, but the anti-vaccine hysteria continues to do real damage to the lives of children around the world, and is another example of what happens when trial lawyers attempt to create new fields of lawsuits.