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February 13, 2009


Court Finds No Link Between Autism And Vaccines

Ruling could help put an end to the controversy over routine childhood immunizations

Britt E. Erickson

There is no link between routine childhood vaccines and autism, ruled a federal court in three separate cases on Thursday. The landmark decision sets a precedent for thousands of pending cases in which parents of autistic children are seeking compensation from the federal government on the basis of the belief that vaccines caused their children's disorder.

SAFE SHOT: A federal court rejects claims that childhood vaccines cause autism. Shutterstock
SAFE SHOT A federal court rejects claims that childhood vaccines cause autism.

The three test cases focused on a hypothesis that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine interacts with the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal in other vaccines when the shots are given at the same time.

"After careful consideration of all of the evidence, it was abundantly clear that petitioners' theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive. Respondent's experts were far more qualified, better supported by the weight of scientific research and authority, and simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention," wrote Denise K. Vowell, the judge who ruled on one of the cases.

The Department of Health & Human Services, which is the defendant in the cases, welcomed the ruling, saying in a statement that it hoped the determination would "help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism."

The court still needs to rule on additional cases that claim thimerosal alone is to blame for autism. Thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines, with the exception of the flu shot, in 2001.The pending cases before the federal court are all ones in which children were given vaccines before 2001.

Yesterday's ruling is unlikely to change the minds of a small but vocal group of "conspiracy theorists" who are convinced that pharmaceutical companies, corrupt scientists, government agencies, and the media are working together to hide the true causes of autism.

Autism is a complex developmental brain disorder that affects 1 in 150 children in the U.S., and its causes are still unknown. "This case illustrates the need for the medical community to probe further into environmental causes of autism," the Autism Society of America (ASA) said in a statement.

ASA emphasized that the ruling applies only to claims that autism is caused by the interaction of the MMR vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines, adding that "there are cases still to be decided, and many unanswered questions for the thousands of families affected by autism."

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ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

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