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Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that vaccines "played any role at all" in causing their children's autism and other severe conditions, special masters in test cases ruled today.
The cases in the Vaccine Court Omnibus Autism Proceeding involved autistic children of three families, the Cedillos, the Hazlehursts, and the Snyders, whose conditions, the parents argued, were brought on by early childhood vaccinations. According to a Reuters report, the parents "sought payment under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), a no-fault system that has a $2.5 billion fund built up from a 75-cent-per-dose tax on vaccines."
A story from CNN indicates that by mid-2008 more than 5,300 cases had been filed by parents who believed vaccines may have caused autism in their children and were seeking payment under the VICP. As a result, there was a high degree of attention on the decisions today.
The special master in the Cedillo case, George Hastings, summarized his findings in rejecting a theory that the cause of a child's autism was a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in combination with other vaccines containing thimerosal (a preservative), stating that plaintiffs:
"failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to causing immune dysfunction, or that the MMR vaccine can contribute to causing either autism or gastrointestinal dysfunction. I further conclude that while Michelle Cedillo has tragically suffered from autism and other severe conditions, the petitioners have also failed to demonstrate that her vaccinations played any role at all in causing those problems."
The government had argued that plaintiffs' claims linking the vaccines with autism were "not supported by 'good science.'" Indeed, in Hastings' own words "[t]he numerous medical studies concerning these issues, performed by medical scientists worldwide, have come down strongly against the petitioners' contentions." Furthermore, the government's experts on the issue were "far better qualified, far more experienced, and far more persuasive" than those offered by the plaintiffs.
These cases were particularly important in setting the bar on the amount of proof required to establish these kinds of autism claims. As noted by the Reuters piece, "Under the program, someone injured by a vaccine does not have to prove the vaccine actually caused his or her injuries. All they need to do is establish that vaccines sometimes cause that particular condition or injury, as the three test cases sought to prove. The no-fault payout system is meant to protect vaccine makers from costly lawsuits that drove many out of the vaccine-making business." Nevertheless, today's decisions indicate that even with the relative burden of proof lowered under the program, courts will look for solid evidence that vaccines can cause autism.