HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No Vaccine/Autism Link

The New York Times reports on the recent federal rulings on the lack of a link between childhood vaccines and autism.  Donald McNeil writes,

In a blow to the movement arguing that vaccines trigger autism, three Federal judges ruled Thursday against all three families in three test cases, all of whom had sought compensation from the Federal vaccine-injury fund. Both sides in the debate have been awaiting decisions in these cases since hearings began in early 2007; more than 5,000 similar claims have been filed with the fund. These three decisions, each looking into a different theory as to how vaccines might have injured the children, are expected to guide the outcomes of all those claims.

The judges ruled that the families seeking compensation had not shown that their children’s autism was brought on by the presence of thimerosal, a mercury vaccine preservative, by the weakened measles virus used in the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, or by a combination of the two.

For example, in a case pitting the family of Michelle Cedillo, a severely autistic child, against the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, the special master for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that the Cedillos had “failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to causing immune dysfunction, or that the MMR vaccine can contributed to causing either autism or gastrointestinal dysfunction.”

In his strongly worded decision, the special master, George L. Hastings Jr. ruled that the government’s expert witnesses were “far better qualified, far more experienced and far more persuasive” than the Cedillos. Although the Cedillos only had to show that the preponderance of the evidence was on their side, the judge ruled that it was “not a close case” because the evidence was “overwhelmingly contrary” to their argument. While expressing “deep sympathy and admiration” for the Cedillo family, he ruled that they were “misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment.” . . .

Pediatricians and government agencies welcomed the rulings. “Hopefully, the determination by the special masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement released Thursday. As the administrator of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund, the department was the respondent in all three cases. . . .

In contrast, J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, a group that blames vaccines for autism and advocates treating children with wheat- and dairy-free diets, vitamins and chelation to remove mercury from their bodies, wrote on the blog Age of Autism that the decision not to compensate the Cedillos was “an incomprehensible injustice.”

The compensation fund was created because it is recognized that vaccines are not risk-free.In a small number of cases they can cause seizures, high fevers and other symptoms. Some vaccines no longer routinely used in the United States, such as oral polio vaccine and the smallpox vaccine, could even in very rare cases bring on life-threatening infections quite like those they were meant to protect against. The fund was created to compensate those victims, and comes from a tax on all vaccines. . . .

The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog has more here.

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