Federal Court Cancels Vaccine-Autism Panel

07/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It was a great honor indeed to be invited to participate in the annual Judicial Conference of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which will be held this November in Washington, DC, to talk about the vaccine-autism debate in America.

The honor was heightened by the facts that the invitation was extended by the Chief Special Master of the Court, (which also oversees the Autism Omnibus Proceedings in so-called "Vaccine Court"), and that I would be appearing with an illustrious group of panelmembers.

In his June 10, 2008 "Save the Date" letter, Chief Special Master Gary Golkiewicz wrote:

The panel is tentatively titled "Vaccines: Balancing Benefits with Parental Concerns (the autism issue?)." It will be moderated by Sharyl Attkisson, a reporter with CBS Evening News. The panelists will be Arthur Allen, author of "Vaccines"; David Kirby, author of "Evidence of Harm"; Dr. Ed Marcuse, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, who has served as a member and Chair of HHS' National Vaccine Advisory Committee, and as a member of CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices; and, Dr. Bernadine Healy, Health Editor, TJS News and World Report and former Director of the National Institutes of Health. There is no doubt that this discussion will be lively and informative.

A second vaccine panel to follow is called, "Vaccine Compensation Under the Act: A Mix of Science and Policy?," and moderated by Senior Judge Loren A. Smith, who was the Chief Judge when the Vaccine Program first began at the court in 1988.

The panelists here are Kevin Conway, a family attorney since the Vaccine Court program's inception; Randolph Moss, a partner at WilmerHale, which represents vaccine manufacturers; Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq; Marguerite Wilner, former Vice-Chair of the CDC's Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines; and Ruth J. Katz, Dean of the School of Public Health at The George Washington University.

"I believe wholeheartedly that the Bench and Bar must communicate periodically to improve the system of justice," wrote Chief Special Master Golkiewicz, who added that, "I believe this Conference program - the panel discussions of general vaccine policy issues and of the information underpinning vaccine compensation decisions - can provide that important dialogue."

"With these different perspectives," he said, "this promises to be an interesting discussion!"

I agree with the Chief Special Master, and thank him for including me in such an important event.

But now we learn that the first vaccine panel (though not the second one) has been cancelled, as I was told yesterday by this letter from His Honor:

I am very sorry to inform you that it was decided to cancel the panel program, on which you were scheduled to participate, as part of the Vaccine session of the Court's Judicial Conference. By way of explanation, the Court's planning process starts with defining a broad overarching theme, moves to identifying speakers, and subsequently focuses through meetings and discussions of the planning committee on actual content of the panels.

This process moves very quickly as materials must be to the printers by mid-July. As the planning of the vaccine session developed, it became apparent that the discussion anticipated from this panel did not fit the goal of furthering the Bar's understanding of litigation under the Vaccine Compensation Program before the Special Masters or the Court's judges (in fact, another non-vaccine related panel was eliminated after discussions determined that it did not meet the Conference goals of focusing on litigation related issues.)

While I have no doubt that your discussion of vaccines' benefits and concerns is extremely important to the overall understanding of the immunization program, and would be enlightening to all, it is simply a discussion not consistent with the Court's Conference but is better suited to another forum. Thank you for your support and my sincerest apologies.

I publish both letters here in the public interest, and without further comment -- though I still extend my thanks to Chief Special Master Golkiewicz for having invited the panel to speak in the first place. It would have been an interesting event, indeed.