US Court of Federal Claims dismisses vaccine link to autism.

Posted on Mar 7, 2009 in Autism

ABC World News (2/12, lead story, 3:00, Gibson) reported, “For more than a decade, thousands of parents have fervently believed that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and their own children’s autism.” On Feb. 12, however, “a federal court said, essentially, nonsense, dismissing the claim in blunt fashion.”
The CBS Evening News (2/12, story 4, 1:15, Couric) added, “Some parents believe there is a connection between autism in their children and the combination vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. But, a special court ruled” Thursday “in three separate cases there is no evidence to support such a link.” The decision “is a huge legal blow to thousands of families with autistic children,” NBC Nightly News (2/12, story 8, 1:55, Williams) added. In yesterday’s rulings, “a federal court said the parents failed to show that vaccinations played any role at all in causing autism. The author of one of the rulings said he had deep sympathy for the parents, but said they were misled by doctors guilty of gross medical misjudgment.”
The Wall Street Journal (2/13, A3, Johnson) notes that the US Court of Federal Claims in Washington “ruled…that routine20childhood immunizations aren’t linked to autism, handing down a landmark decision in the controversy over whether vaccines can cause the neuro-developmental disorder.” In doing so, the court “denied damages to three families who alleged that vaccinations led to their children’s diseases. Some 5,000 families are seeking damages from a federal program to compensate patients harmed by vaccines, and the three cases the court ruled on Thursday were considered tests for how the others will be handled.” The defendant in the three cases, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “hailed the rulings,” saying in a statement. “Hopefully, the determination by the Special Masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism.” The lead case is Cedillo v. HHS, 98-916, US Court of Federal Claims (pdf).
“Both sides in the debate have been awaiting decisions in these test cases since hearings began in 2007,” the New York Times (2/13, A16, McNeil) explains. In each of the three cases, which were “decided by a judge called a special master, the court found that the families had not shown that their children’s autism was brought on by substances in the vaccines — either the measles virus in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, or its combination with thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was used in most childhood vaccines until 2001.” In arriving at their decision, the three judges “considered 5,000 pages of testimony from experts and 939 medical articles.” Meanwhile, “lawyers for the plaintiffs have indicated they will appeal.”
On its front page, the Washington Post (2/13, A1, Vedantam) adds, “The ruling closes one chapter in a long feud that has pitted families with autistic children against the bulk of the scientific establishment. Those who believe passionately that routine childhood shots are to blame for the rising toll of autism feel they are locked in a…struggle against vaccine manufacturers, corrupt scientists, federal agencies, and the mainstream media.”
According to the Chicago Tribune (2/13, Huppke), yesterday’s ruling that “there is no evidence of a link between autism and childhood vaccines may sound definitive, but in the emotionally charged world of autism, it’s unlikely to change many minds. Those convince d their child’s disorder was triggered by a shot in the arm are both passionate and vocal, and thoroughly convinced that the sizable amount of research disproving a connection between vaccines and autism is either biased or scientifically flawed.” However, the majority of “pediatricians, along with mainstream medical societies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, say there is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are safe,” and even “consider the opposition to vaccines risky, as it could lead to an uptick in cases of preventable diseases.”
The rulings “still have far-reaching implications — offering reassurance to parents scared about vaccinating their babies because of a small but vocal anti-vaccine movement,” the AP (2/13, Freking, Neergaard) points out. But, the US Court of Claims “still must rule on additional cases that argue a different link — that vaccines that once carried the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal are to blame, if the mercury reached and damaged brain cells.” To date, “the court has given no timetable for a ruling.”
Bloomberg News (2/13, O’Reilly), the Los Angeles Times (2/13, Chong), the Washington Times (2/13, Hudson), New York’s Newsday (2/13, Hernandez, Ricks), CNN (2/13), the Legal Times (2/13, Weissmann), the Voice of America (2/12), Slate (2/12, Allen), the Examiner (2/13, McCabe), the Wall Street Journal (2/12, Goldstein) Health Blog, HealthDay (2/12, Gardner), WebMD (2/12, Hitti), and MedPage Today (2/12, Gever) also covered the story.