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A woman had her child taken away. She blames a medical mistake; doctors have a different story

Crime
In this handout from Merck & Co, a box of Gardasil, a cervical cancer vaccine, is seen is this undated photo. A woman in Texas said that an accidental Gardasil vaccine made her infant seriously ill. Doctors accused her of fabricating the systems to sue that doctor's office that wrongly administered the vaccine. (Russell Kirk/Merck & Co. via Getty Images)

A jury in Texas ruled that a woman should have her child taken from her custody. The jury agreed with prosecutors that the mother had been purposely sabotaging the health and well being of her child.

The mother swears that her baby’s deteriorating health was caused by a medical mistake that resulted in a wrongly administered Gardasil vaccine to her infant.

First, the facts that everyone seems to agree on:

The baby in question, Aniya Blu Vasquez, was born on Aug. 4, 2016. On Dec. 29 of that year, Aniya was mistakenly given a shot of Gardasil meant for her 14-year-old brother. This was in addition to her regular, four-month-old vaccine regimen.

Gardasil is a vaccine given to children to prevent the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV,) a sexually transmitted disease. Some conservative groups have argued against laws requiring Gardasil vaccinations, on the grounds that this encourages young children to be sexually promiscuous.

The CDC lists potential side effects of Gardasil as “pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given,” fever, headache or feeling tired, nausea, and muscle or joint pain.

There are other reported cases where Gardasil patients have experienced more serious symptoms, but so far none of these have been definitively proven as having been caused by the drug.

In February 2017, Aniya’s mother brought her to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston where she was diagnosed with low sodium. She was treated and released.

In May 2017, she was brought back to Texas Children's Hospital. This was her third hospital visit for the same symptoms. At this point, the hospital mandated a two-week separation trial, during which Aniya seemed to make a marked improvement.

The hospital suspected Aniya's mother of Munchausen by Proxy, and alerted Child Protective Services. She was then placed in the care of her paternal grandmother (Aniya’s parents are separated).

Munchausen by Proxy occurs when a person causes symptoms or makes up symptoms in a child in order to make the child appear sick.

On July 3, 2017, despite improvements, Aniya's sodium levels were still dangerously low, and she was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital.

In June 2018, a jury found Aniya's mother, Anita Vasquez, guilty of Munchausen by Proxy after four hours of deliberation, and Aniya was placed back into the care of her paternal grandmother.

To reach this verdict, the jury was legally required to find “clear and convincing” evidence that Aniya was in danger while she remained with her mother. Despite having her parental rights terminated, Anita Vasquez has not been charged with a crime.

Anita Vasquez continues to fight for custody. Her daughter, Aniya, has reportedly been recovering over time since she has been away from her mother. Anita Vasquez acknowledged this in a video interview she did with an anti-vaccine group, but argued that this improvement was due to more time having passed since the vaccination incident and not related to Aniya being out of her care.

An initial permanency hearing will be held on Nov. 3, to determine where Aniya will stay long-term.

Now here's where it gets more complicated:

Prosecutors have never denied that Aniya was mistakenly given Gardasil. The doctor involved reportedly “documented the alleged medical error in the patient's chart and immediately reported it to the vaccine's manufacturer,” according to The Victoria Advocate

Anita Vasquez claimed that Gardasil was what caused her baby's health problems. The state argued that she was hoping for a settlement from the doctor's office that wrongly administered the vaccine, and that she purposely deprived her child of nutrients in order to make a stronger case. Anita countered that the state's case was part of a cover-up to protect the doctor or the vaccine industry.

Aniya was not the first baby to be mistakenly given Gardasil. The roughly 100 other documented cases displayed only minor symptoms, if any, including local irritation or a fever. The medical director of the primary care immunization program at the Mayo Clinic testified at the trial that Gardasil only uses the dead version of the virus, and so shouldn't produce the symptoms that Aniya experienced. He also said that vaccines like Gardasil, the flu shot and the Hepatitis A vaccine aren't given to very young children not because of any reaction that it might cause, but because their bodies tend to just ignore it altogether.

There is no documented case of Gardasil causing a sodium deficiency. A pediatric infectious disease specialist at the trial agreed with the doctor's assessment, and said that there was no logic reason to think that Gardasil caused Aniya’s medical issues. While Gardasil isn't usually given to infants, it is commonly given to children as young as 9.

After baby Aniya was brought to the hospital for the third time (five months after the vaccination incident), doctors at Texas Children's Hospital suspected that Anita was deliberately diluting her baby's formula and causing the sodium deficiency and malnutrition. They grew even more suspicious after Anita refused to breastfeed or pump at the hospital, despite also insisting that this was the only way the baby would eat (as opposed to store bought formula).

No tests were run on Aniya’s bottles to determine whether or not Anita was actually diluting her breast milk, a decision that a state investigator would later admit that he regretted during his testimony at the trial. Anita’s lawyer, Chris Branson, also questioned why this testing had never been done.

The baby then showed marked improvement during the two weeks that she was kept at the hospital away from her mother. The hospital also testified that it did extensive testing to see whether or not the baby's medical issues could have been caused by HPV. Investigators would later testify that one of the few clear facts in this case was that whenever baby Aniya was away from her mother and maternal grandmother, her condition would significantly improve.

Anita accused the hospital of lying and withholding information as part of a cover-up on behalf of the Gardasil industry that had started at the doctor’s office. She told TheBlaze that she had “shown the court evidence which exonerates me and proves TCH [Texas Children's Hospital] & CPS neglected Aniya’s health...which led her to an emergency crisis.” She accused Texas Children's Hospital of using her “as their scapegoat” and of “utilizing CPS for their own financial gain and malicious reasons.”

A representative for the Houston branch of Child Protective Services, the same branch that prosecuted in this case, reiterated to TheBlaze that:

It was mentioned in court that the child did not have any episodes that required her to be hospitalized again while she was in foster care. And the physicians the child saw frequently during that time did not have any concerns.

A state investigator (the same one who also said that he wished testing had been ordered on Aniya's baby bottles to determine whether or not they were in fact diluted) testified that Anita Vasquez had repeatedly texted him medical information about vaccines in an attempt (he said) to manipulate the investigation.

What else?

This was not Anita's first time in a courtroom. In 2015, she sued her sister in small claims court on the TV show, "Judge Judy." That same year, she had stipulations added to her nursing license for kicking a police officer in the groin during a custody battle with her ex-husband and her sister.

Since her trial, Anita has become involved with anti-vaccine advocacy groups and has publicly complaining about mercury in vaccines, which is a common complaint of these groups (since 1999, with the exception of the flu vaccine, no vaccines administered to children contain thimerosal, a preservative that included mercury).

A doctor of pediatrics who testified at the trial said that even if there HAD been thimerosal in the shot, it would have been less than would be found naturally occurring in formula or breastmilk.

Anita has also blamed the entire vaccine industry for creating a conspiracy to quash any evidence of side effects from vaccines in general. Anita and her new anti-vaxxer allies also insisted in a video interview (which they said that they did without consulting her lawyer because lawyers “always say no”), that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy was a made-up diagnosis invented to take children away from their parents.

While this is an understandable reaction from a mother who went through this situation, and it would certainly be possible for authorities to lie about this in individual cases, Munchausen by Proxy is well documented syndrome. In one famous case from 2015, the victim eventually snapped and murdered her mother.

The same representative for Child Protective Services told TheBlaze that even though such cases exist, it is rare for the agency to prosecute a Munchausen case.

Munchausen isn't very common. What we've seen in cases where Munchausen is suspected, a parent brings their child in, the child needs to be hospitalized, they improve at the hospital and are discharged to the parents. Then something happens to where the child is brought in again fairly soon after being released, and needs to be hospitalized again. And a lot of times it's for the exact same problem that the parent says they were concerned about before, or, they're showing the exact same symptoms as before, but improve again while hospitalized.

Anita, who is a registered nurse, has claimed that the medical staff at Texas Children's Hospital felt threatened by her medical knowledge. During the trial, Anita refused to cooperate with a trial-mandated psychiatrist, which the prosecution used in their arguments to try to undermine her case.

Anita also admitted to giving her baby detox capsules from an organic food store. However, this was only mentioned in passing in one Victoria Advocate article covering the trial, and it is inconclusive about whether or not this had any bearing in the jury’s decision. Her family and friends, including nurse colleagues, testified on her behalf as character witnesses.

An appeal could be difficult

After the trial, Vasquez fired Branson. Branson told TheBlaze that he did not blame a grieving mother for that, and that there were no hard feelings. He said that he had recommended that Vasquez appeal the decision, but that he was not sure whether or not she would take his advice. Vasquez told TheBlaze that she was trying to raise money for an appeal.

Branson also pointed out that the nature of Texas law makes it difficult to determine exactly which points convinced the jury to terminate Vasquez’s parental rights. Under Texas state law, before parental rights are terminated, the jury must decide that there are reasons the relationship should be terminated, and that the child’s best interest is at stake.

However, because of a system referred to as “broad form jury charge,” the jury does not have to specifically agree on what those reasons are. For example, in this case, the court listed three possible criteria for the jury to deliberate. It’s impossible for anyone outside of the jury, including the defense lawyer, to tell if the jurors all agreed on the same reason or if they were split. Branson has argued that because of this system, it’s possible for parental rights to be terminated without the prosecution actually meeting the burden of proof.

This makes an appeal process trickier, because it cannot be as focused as it could be otherwise. There is a case currently before the Texas Supreme Court that would change this system to a “granulated jury charge” one, in which a jury would have to indicate whether it voted yes or no to each individual charge.

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