Experts find the going tough in Vaccine Courts

Witnesses for Petitioners Are Often Tough to Find

Few medical experts are willing to testify in vaccine court that shots can cause harm.

November 29, 2004|Myron Levin | Times Staff Writer
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The vaccine court can be a hostile place not only for petitioners but for their expert witnesses too.
Take the case of Dr. Derek Smith. A neurologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Smith had been retained to testify for people with transverse myelitis, a potentially paralyzing neurological disorder.
Smith said he was "highly confident" that the tetanus vaccine could trigger the ailment in certain vulnerable individuals. Officials with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program strongly disagreed.
Petitioners in vaccine court can have a tough time finding top experts, in part because many doctors are reluctant to say vaccines can cause harm. But Smith had no such qualms.
Wary of antagonizing people who could affect his career, Smith decided to drop out after testifying in one last case, according to Chin-Caplan and other sources.
Although there were no explicit threats, Chin-Caplan said Smith was told in so many words that he was jeopardizing his access to research funding.