The government's " vaccines court" ruled Friday in three separate test cases that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, a finding that supports the broad scientific consensus on the matter but that is likely to disappoint parents who are convinced that their child's illness has been caused by vaccines.
The court had ruled 13 months ago that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, commonly known as MMR, does not cause the disorder, and the new ruling may finally close the bulk of litigation on the matter. More than 5,000 parents had filed claims with the court, formally known as the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking damages because they believed their children had developed autism as a result of vaccinations.
The cases that three special masters for the court chose to include in the omnibus proceeding were considered among the strongest, so the outlook appears grim for others making the same claim.
Special Master Denise K. Vowell wrote in one of the decisions that "petitioners propose effects from mercury in [vaccines] that do not resemble mercury's known effects in the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in [vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not."
She also dismissed claims that some groups of children are unusually susceptible to the effects of mercury. "The only evidence that these children are unusually sensitive is the fact of their [autism] itself."
The special vaccine court was established in 1986 because vaccine manufacturers were facing many liability suits that threatened their ability to continue manufacturing the valuable medicines. The court holds no-fault hearings to determine if a child has, in fact, been damaged by a vaccine. Compensation comes from a special fund based on a surcharge leveled on each dose of vaccine.
The court has made many awards to parents who successfully showed that their children were damaged neurologically or otherwise by vaccination - a rare, but nonetheless real event - but has refused to accept claims that autism is caused by vaccination.