On Using VAERS

14 Mar

Recently, KC posted a comment reflecting his strong suspicions that Dr Jim Laidler fabricated his infamous ‘incredible hulk’ report to VAERS:

You can’t backup Dr. Laidler’s…..VAERS bullshit with AutismWatch!

This is a common refrain. It’s been echoed by various people who choose to believe in the thiomersal/MMR/autism connection. Lets look again at what Jim Laidler said:

The chief problem with the VAERS data is that reports can be entered by anyone and are not routinely verified. To demonstrate this, a few years ago I entered a report that an influenza vaccine had turned me into The Hulk. The report was accepted and entered into the database.

This is what people routinely claim is ‘bullshit’. So, I thought I’d put it to the test.

VAERS has two ways of submitting a report. Firstly, you could download a PDF, fill it in and post it off. Or, you could do what I elected to do and fill in and submit a report online.

VAERS has a helpful popup which tells you exactly what it needs to know – which are the most important pieces of data it needs. However, the fact that I live in the UK was not deemed of importance. Neither was the fact that I told VAERS that my daughter had been turned into Wonder Woman. The only piece of contact data I submitted was my email address and I wasn’t even asked for that. I submitted it voluntarily.

I’m going to get a bit nerdy now.

VAERS use very, very simple Javascript form validation. It tripped me up a couple of times as I got confused about the fact you crazy Americans use mm/dd/yyyy rather than dd/mm/yyyy and it didn’t like the 24 hour clock either.

The Javascript routine caught the fact that I tried to submit an adverse event *before* the fictional date of my daughters birth but it failed to catch that I stated the vaccine was administered at 18months and that the date for vaccination I provided was only 6 months after the ‘birth’ date.

VAERS uses a ColdFusion backend. This means its easy to build a script that detects an incoming visitors IP address. It would therefore be just as easy to extend the script to use the IP address to determine what country the visitor is from. As it is, a UK resident has managed to successfully enter a record into VAERS.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, I ventured into Bartholomew Cubbins territory and recorded an AVI movie of me performing the whole process.

There’s a highly compressed and slightly lacking in quality version in SWF (Flash) format here (12mb) and a Hi-res version here (150mb). Please note that I use a ridiculously high resolution (1600 x 1200) so the SWF might encroach off the edge of your screens. If you’d rather download that file, right click it instead of left clicking it.

So what have I illustrated?

That Jim Laidler, far from ‘bullshitting’ about the record entry process and subsequent unreliablity of data was telling the truth. Anyone can enter any data into VAERS. Even someone from another country. Good source data? I think not.

10 Responses to “On Using VAERS”

  1. Joseph March 14, 2006 at 15:27 #

    Sure, but I think it’s important to explain why the trends occur. Why do the number of reports go up and then down? Simple; as the thimerosal theory becomes more popular, more parents report cases of autism that they have been made to believe is caused by vaccines. The movement take on critical mass, thimerosal is removed, and now less parents report to the system simply because they can’t claim thimerosal harmed their children anymore. Meanwhile, the autistic population in CDDS continues to grow at an annual rate of 10% and has a long way to go before it stabilizes.

  2. Kev March 14, 2006 at 15:38 #

    Absolutely Joseph, I just wanted to refute the idea that Jim was ‘bullshitting’ anyone with his original VAERS investigation :o)

  3. Dad Of Cameron March 14, 2006 at 16:17 #


    Great post. Are we to assume you’ll be purchasing an invisible airplane for your daughter?

  4. HN March 14, 2006 at 17:28 #

    This shows that VAERS is just a collection of anecdotes. The plural of anecdotes is NOT data… but it can point to where to gather real data. Even if it is biased:

    Sometimes the results are not quite what they expecting. I believe that this analysis of VAERS reports after the HepB vaccine is more of a cautionary tale about co-sleeping with babies (which I did, though I preferred to have the bassinet nearby):

    Click to access poa9078.pdf

  5. María Luján March 14, 2006 at 17:35 #

    Well, the situation, such as I see if you allow me an opinon, is that there is no trustable source data-VDS, VAERS-of the real adverse effects of vaccines, by different reasons. It has been demonstrated the problems of using CCDS to analyze changes in prevalence of autism.
    Therefore we can not say a conclusive word about, it seems anything.
    Please let me then go back.
    Who are the group that would be aware of potential health problems in susceptible individuals and to hear parents concerns? Doctors (Peditricians, neurologists,etc ). Only 1 to 10 % of adverse effect of vaccines are reported -considering some informal statistics-and this is worrisome. Do you know about a published report about in some Medical Journal such as Lancet or BMJ?
    Because the questions seemed to be reduced to vaccines as a cause or not of autism in a controversy, the real potential problems of vaccines are not even considered. With the tremendous importance of vaccines, why a different approach cannot be considered, at an individual level?
    If doctors would be trained to be aware of problems in susceptible individuals, to respect parents concerns and to hear them and to consider the possibility seriously, we would have a better reporting data base about.
    Please let me know if you want me to post some recent published papers about the importance of pharmacovigilance in vaccines, mainly in susceptible individuals.I want to clarify that I think that vaccines are extremely important. The point of safety for all, including susceptible individuals, is what worries me.
    Thank you in advance for understanding.
    What do you think?
    María Luján

  6. Joseph March 14, 2006 at 17:40 #

    VAERS is nearly useless in autism, because it’s tainted with hype and litigation. The usefulness of VAERS is in detecting signals shortly after some event, before hype takes over.

  7. M March 14, 2006 at 18:49 #

    The subject of everything being easier if we all turned into WonderWoman came up at work. Could I have a go with your vaccine?

  8. Ms. Clark March 14, 2006 at 19:19 #

    Once upon a time, Dr. Laidler gave more details on what he entered into the VAERS database. It’s very funny.

    It was like, “I turned green and developed massive muscles and had an incredible urge to turn cars over…” or something.

    Can you imagine the VAERS folks when they called him, “uh, sir, we have here that following a flu vaccine injection you turned “Kelly green” and suddenly grew very large and angry, it’s says you lose shirts on a daily basis?? Is this correct?”

    So your little girl can use a special lariat thing?

    I can see why they would allow people in the UK or elsewhere to report reactions, you might be an American working there in Britain, just moved their recently. Still it seems like they could do a little more checking on the accuracy of the claims.

  9. JIll March 14, 2006 at 19:52 #

    Did you read Slate’s “Superman” series?

    Building a Better You
    How you’ll become stronger, faster, smarter.

    “…The ethical questions about enhancement may be fiendishly difficult to answer…”


    Really, it was not that long ago that immunizing your kid counted as an “enhancement”.

    As Carl Elliott said, “…yesterday’s enhancement is today’s necessity.”

  10. anonimouse March 15, 2006 at 16:48 #

    I would suggest the VSD (since it’s actual medical records) is substantially more reliable than CDDS or VAERS data. It’s not perfect and has its limitations, but you’d think that you could get a fair idea of whether there were associations between autism and other events by using it.

    Of course, the only people that can do a proper VSD study are the living-room lab excel-using monotone-speaking chemical-castration injecting Geiers. Not trained epidemiologists with decades of experience.

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