Ques­tions over doc­tor’s ex­per­tise de­lay mother’s vac­ci­na­tion hear­ing

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY KAREN BOUFFARD The Detroit News

A court hear­ing over vac­ci­na­tions was abruptly ad­journed Thurs­day over a med­i­cal doc­tor’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions to tes­tify that vac­cines aren’t al­ways safe.

Oakland County Cir­cuit Judge Karen Mc­Don­ald will de­cide if Lori Mathe­son must obey a ref­eree’s or­der that she vac­ci­nate her 2-year-old daugh­ter. Mathe­son’s ex-hus­band, Michael Sch­mitt, wants their daugh­ter to get her child­hood im­mu­niza­tions. The hear­ing will con­tinue at 9 a.m. Nov. 14.

It’s one of two vac­ci­na­tion cases un­der­way in Mc­Don­ald’s court­room this month. The judge last week sen­tenced Re­becca Bre­dow to seven days in jail for dis­obey­ing a court or­der to vac­ci­nate her son. At a court hear­ing on Wed­nes­day, Mc­Don­ald re­duced Be­dow’s cus­tody rights.

Vac­ci­na­tions have be­come a con­tentious is­sue across the coun­try, as some par­ents fear they may lead to autism in chil­dren — a the­ory that’s been de­bunked by main­stream sci­en­tists. The fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion and the In­sti­tute of Medicine have con­cluded there is no re­la­tion­ship between vac­cines and autism rates in chil­dren.

Mathe­son’s at­tor­ney, Amy Ruby, on Thurs­day asked Mc­Don­ald to qual­ify Chicago-area pe­di­a­tri­cian Toni Bark as an ex­pert wit- ness to tes­tify on ad­verse re­ac­tions to vac­cines. Af­ter nu­mer­ous ob­jec­tions by the fa­ther’s at­tor­ney, Paul Schoen­beck, Mc­Don­ald re­fused Ruby’s re­quest.

Asked about her qual­i­fi­ca­tions, Bark told the court she is an ex­pert on “ad­versi­nomics,” the study of ad­verse re­ac­tions to vac­cines. The doc­tor said she’d been qual­i­fied as an ex­pert wit­ness by courts in other states, as well as in Canada and Aus­tralia, and pub­lished an ar­ti­cle on the topic in a Cana­dian med­i­cal jour­nal. Mc­Don­ald was skep­ti­cal. “It’s not my in­tent to dis­par­age any­body but you can’t just put a doc­tor on the stand, not qual­ify her as an ex­pert, and then ask her ques­tions about vac­cines,” Mc­Don­ald told the mother’s at­tor­ney.

Mc­Don­ald ad­mon­ished Ruby for not prop­erly pre­sent­ing the doc­tor’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

“I’m not even sure if ad­versi­nomics is a proper field of study, and you haven’t shown that,” Mc­Don­ald said. “Do not come in here again with­out look­ing at the case law and the court rules and know­ing what you’re do­ing.”

Mathe­son wouldn’t com­ment about Thurs­day’s court ses­sion. But anti-vac­cine pro­test­ers gath­ered in the court­room ap­peared frus­trated.

“I think the judge just doesn’t want to hear the other side,” said Caro­line Smith, a mem­ber of the group Michi­gan for Vac­cine Choice.

About a dozen anti-vac­cine pro­test­ers gath­ered out­side the court­house to show their sup­port for Matheso and Bre­dow. Bre­dow served five days of her seven-day jail sen­tence.

Betty Kal­lis of Birm­ing­ham said she thinks par­ents should be able to de­cide whether to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren.

“We need the right to choose which vac­cines your child gets,” Kal­lis said. “Par­ents should have the right to se­lec­tively choose vac­cines, de­lay vac­cines or skip vac­cines, based on their re­search and be­liefs.

“Not ev­ery­body can eat peanuts, not ev­ery­body can eat soy and not ev­ery­body can take 69 doses of 16 vac­cines between birth and age 18.”

Peter Ja­cob­son, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of health law and pol­icy at UM School of Pub­lic Health, said he isn’t sur­prised that vac­ci­na­tions can be a di­vi­sive is­sue for some par­ents. He said the in­ter­net is flooded with un­true re­ports that stoke par­ents’ fears.

“If you have one par­ent spend­ing his or her time on the web, or hear­ing more from the vac­cine skep­tics’ fac­tion, it’s not sur­pris­ing that peo­ple might be more afraid.”


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