Special Education

Autism Ruling Blow for Activists

By Christina A. Samuels — February 23, 2009 1 min read
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Although a special federal court has rejected claims that vaccines cause autism, the decision is not likely to tamp down the assertion.

Diagnoses of autism, a developmental disorder marked by impaired communication and social interaction, have been on the rise, and now affect one out of every approximately 150 children, according to studies from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thousands of parents maintain that their children were healthy before receiving vaccines that contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. Parents have also said their children were injured by the combined vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella.

Thimerosal is no longer used in childhood vaccines in the United States, with the exception of the flu vaccine, but the MMR vaccine is still given routinely.

Three families were chosen to be test cases before a special federal court that hears vaccine-injury cases. But in a recent ruling, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rejected all three cases, saying the parents did not show a likely link between their children’s illness and the vaccines.

One special master in the case, George Hastings, came out strongly against the witnesses gathered by the parents of Michelle Cedillo, a 14-year-old with autism.

“Unfortunately, the Cedillos have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment,” Mr. Hastings wrote.

A statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said officials hoped the Feb. 12 decision reassured parents. The department also said it was continuing its research into the causes of autism and the best ways to treat the disorder.

About 5,500 U.S. families were seeking compensation through the federal government’s vaccine-injury fund. The families in the three test cases have not indicated whether they will appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the February 25, 2009 edition of Education Week

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