* Ruling is the fourth against autism claims
* Court says mercury preservative did not cause autism
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, March 12 Vaccines that contain a
mercury-based preservative called thimerosal cannot cause
autism on their own, a special U.S. court ruled on Friday,
dealing one more blow to parents seeking to blame vaccines for
their children's illness.
The special U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that
vaccines could not have caused the autism of an Oregon boy,
William Mead, ending his family's quest for reimbursement.
"The Meads believe that thimerosal-containing vaccines
caused William's regressive autism. As explained below, the
undersigned finds that the Meads have not presented a
scientifically sound theory," Special Master George Hastings, a
former tax claims expert at the Department of Justice, wrote in
In February 2009, the court ruled against three families
who claimed vaccines caused their children's autism, saying
they had been "misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view,
of gross medical misjudgment".
The families sought payment under the National Vaccine
Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system that has a $2.5
billion fund built up from a 75-cent-per-dose tax on vaccines.
Instead of judges, three "special masters" heard the three
test cases representing thousands of other petitioners.
They asked whether a combination vaccine for measles, mumps
and rubella, or MMR, plus a mercury-containing preservative
called thimerosal, caused the children's symptoms.
More than 5,300 cases were filed by parents who believed
vaccines may have caused autism in their children. The no-fault
payout system is meant to protect vaccine makers from costly
lawsuits that drove many out of the vaccine-making business.
Autism is a mysterious condition that affects as many as
one in 110 U.S. children. The so-called spectrum ranges from
mild Asperger's Syndrome to severe mental retardation and
social disability, and there is no cure or good treatment.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine has reported several times
that no link can be found between vaccines and autism.
Supporters of the scientific community welcomed the
"It's time to move forward and look for the real causes of
autism," said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science
Foundation. "There is not a bottomless pit of money with which
to fund autism science. We have to use our scarce resources
But advocates for the idea that vaccines are dangerous said
they would not give up. "We hope that Congress will intervene
in what is clearly a miscarriage of justice to vaccine-injured
children," said Jim Moody of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety.
Autism Speaks, another advocacy group, said it would also
not completely abandon the theory that vaccines might cause
The organization said it would invest "in research to
determine whether subsets of individuals might be at increased
risk for developing autism symptoms following vaccination."
But the group also said it was clear that if such a link
did exist, it would be rare.
"While we have great empathy for all parents of children
with autism, it is important to keep in mind that, given the
present state of the science, the proven benefits of
vaccinating a child to protect them against serious diseases
far outweigh the hypothesized risk that vaccinations might
cause autism," Autism Speaks said in a statement.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)