This story has taken a turn:
Washington court will hear autism-vaccine suits
June 10, 2007 02:23:00 PM PST
A special court that will pit scientists against activists in the debate over whether vaccines have caused autism in many children begins hearings on Monday with the first test case, involving a 12-year-old Arizona girl.
Although science has weighed in heavily on the question -- with strong evidence that vaccines are not linked to the disease -- a very vocal group of people remains unconvinced.
More than 4,800 cases are pending, filed by parents who believe their children have autism that was caused by vaccines. The little-known U.S. Court of Federal Claims has set up an omnibus hearing in Washington, D.C., with the first case expected to last three weeks.
The parents are seeking 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.
"Monday will mark the first time ever that evidence of autistic harm from childhood vaccines is examined and cross-examined in a court of law"; activist David Kirby, who wrote a book about the purported vaccine and autism link, said in a statement.
No judges but instead three 'special masters'; will hear the test cases. They are Denise Vowell, a former U.S. Army chief trial judge; Patricia Campbell-Smith, a former environmental lawyer and clerk at the Federal Claims Court; and George Hastings a former tax claims expert at the Department of Justice.
The first test case will ask whether a combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, plus a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal, caused the autism of Michelle Cedillo, now 12.
"The profound downward change in Michelle's health began seven days following the MMR"; the Legal Times newspaper quoted Michelle's mother Theresa Cedillo as saying.
Vaccine experts say parents often link vaccines with their children's symptoms because getting a shot can be upsetting, and children are vaccinated at an age when autism and related disorders are often first diagnosed.
They point to two Institute of Medicine reports, in 2001 and 2004, that reviewed the evidence and determined there was no link between vaccines and autism.
"From my standpoint, this question has been asked and answered" Dr. Paul Offitt of the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, who helped invent a rotavirus vaccine, told reporters in a telephone briefing.
"You know, it's a scientific question. It's best answered in a scientific venue. It's been done. I mean, the court is not a place to determine scientific truths. The court is a place to settle disputes"
Dr. Peter Hotez of the Sabin Vaccine Institute said he is confident his daughter's autism was not caused by any vaccines.
"Even if we could turn back the clock and do it all over again, I can honestly say that we would still give Rachel her full complement of pediatric vaccines and our confidence in this is based on what we know about autism" Hotez told reporters in the same briefing.
Offitt and Hotez say many studies show that children who have been vaccinated are no more likely to develop autism than children who have not been vaccinated. And they note that although thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines in the United States, except flu vaccines, by 2002, rates of autism have continued to climb.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in every 150 children has autism or a related disorder such as Asperger's syndrome.
The CDC estimates that about 560,000 people up to age 21 in the United States have autism, which can severely disable a child by interfering with speech and behavior.