No Vaccine-Autism Link, Court Rules

March 4, 2009
Special Feature

A special federal court set up to hear vaccine cases recently ruled that there was no evidence that vaccines are connected to the development of autism in children.

A special federal court set up to hear vaccine cases recently ruled that there was no evidence that vaccines are connected to the development of autism in children. The court ruling covered the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and other vaccines that contained a mercury-based preservative. The decision, which covered three specific cases, could impact the claims of other parents of autistic children. About 5,000 families have filed claims involving autism.

The special court, which was set up in 1986 to protect vaccine makers from damage claims, heard two cases in which the plaintiffs argued that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in a variety of vaccines up until 2001, allowed viruses in the MMR vaccine to cause autism. A third case named the MMR vaccine as the sole culprit. The judicial officers who heard the cases, known as special masters, rejected these arguments, noting that the scientific evidence was overwhelmingly against the plaintiffs’ claims. The court decision also echoes the results of a study of more than 1,400 Italian babies, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, which found no link between thimerosal and autism.

Several public health officials hailed the decision, hoping that parents would now be confident that vaccines recommended for children are safe. Some believe that the reluctance of many parents to have their children vaccinated may have contributed to a 12-year high in measles cases last year and a recent rise in cases of bacterial meningitis.