Court: Vaccine not to blame for autism

February 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Federal judges ruled on Thursday that vaccines are not to blame for causing autism in children. It is not the decision thousands of families wanted to hear.

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This ruling was a big blow to parents who believe the vaccines caused their children's autism. The legal controversy goes back almost a decade, when parents began filing claims with the government's vaccine compensation program.

"In some ways, I think it was a setup to fail," said Diana Conti.

Conti runs Parca, a group that helps people with developmental disabilities. A third of their clients are diagnosed with autism.

"I don't know if these cases could really win because not enough research has been done," said Conti.

More than 5500 claims were filed by families who believe their children's autism symptoms were related to the combination measles, mumps and rubella shot. At the time, the vaccines contained the mercury-based preservative thimerosal.

Even before Thursday's ruling, more than a dozen large medical studies found no link between vaccines and autism. Lisa Stalteri's 8-year-old son, Dante, was diagnosed with autism. She believes those medical studies on vaccines are inconclusive.

"It alone might not be the case of autism, but it could be one of the contributing factors to autism," said Stalteri.

Judges on a special federal vaccines court today agreed with those studies. They said any link between the vaccines and autism is in their words "speculative and unpersuasive."

"Parents can be reassured the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, which every child should get, is not associated with autism," said Bill Schaffner, MD, with preventative medicine.

Doctors like Paul Offit, MD, from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, say it's time to end the controversy.

"In about 20-percent of children with autism will regress between their first and second birthday. So statistically, it has to happen where some children will get a vaccine, they will have been fine, they will get the vaccine and they will not be fine anymore," said Offit.

As a precaution, thimerosal has since been removed from children's vaccines. It only remains in some flu shots.

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