March 13, 2010

Court: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

U.S. courts ruled on Friday that vaccines containing a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal do not cause autism on their own.

The ruling came as a shock to parents who have been seeking to blame vaccines for their child's illnesses.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that vaccines did not cause autism in an Oregon boy, William Mead, after his parents had tried to get restitution for his illness.

"The Meads believe that thimerosal-containing vaccines caused William's regressive autism. As explained below, the undersigned finds that the Meads have not presented a scientifically sound theory," Special Master George Hastings wrote in his ruling.

Three other families have also sought damages for their child's autism, claiming that vaccines caused the illness. The families said they had been "misled by physicians who are guilty...of gross medical misjudgment." A court ruled against all three cases in February 2009.

The families sought money under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system that has collected more than $2.5 billion from 75-cent-per-dose taxes on vaccines.

The hearing, lead by three "special masters", heard the three test cases representing thousands of petitioners. The claim was that a combination of vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, plus a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, caused the symptoms in children.

More than 5,300 cases were filed by parents who felt their children were poisoned by the vaccines. The no-fault program is meant to protect vaccines makers from expensive lawsuits that bankrupted many companies out of the vaccine-making industry.

The U.S. Institute of Medicine has reported a number of times that there is no link between vaccines and autism. The ruling has been favored by the scientific community.

"It's time to move forward and look for the real causes of autism," Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, told Reuters. "There is not a bottomless pit of money with which to fund autism science. We have to use our scarce resources wisely."

But advocacy groups that believe the vaccines are dangerous said they will not give up. "We hope that Congress will intervene in what is clearly a miscarriage of justice to vaccine-injured children," Jim Moody of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety told Reuters.

The advocacy group Autism Speaks, said it also would not abandon the belief that autism may be caused by vaccines. The group said they would invest in research to determine if certain "individuals might be at increased risk for developing autism symptoms following vaccination."

But the group also said if a link did exist between vaccines and autism, it would be rare. 

"While we have great empathy for all parents of children with autism, it is important to keep in mind that, given the present state of the science, the proven benefits of vaccinating a child to protect them against serious diseases far outweigh the hypothesized risk that vaccinations might cause autism," Autism Speaks said in a statement.

Autism is a puzzling illness that affects as many as 1 in 110 U.S. children. It can range from mild Asperser's Syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability. There is no cure or viable treatment for autism.


On the Net: