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Special Commentary Regarding 2009 Vaccine Court Rulings

The following piece was submitted as commentary to JURIST,  a legal news and research website at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, which has recently been covering the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit finding no link between vaccines and Autism.

Commentary from Amy Pisani, MS, Executive Director, Every Child By Two – Carter/Bumpers Champions for Immunization

In February of 2009 a special vaccine court exonerated vaccines in the debate over the causes of autism. The three Special Masters ruled that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), given in combination with thimerosal-containing vaccines, does not cause, or contribute to, autism. The ruling was consistent with 18 major scientific studies which have failed to show a link between vaccines and the widely-diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder.  The decision was the result of an extensive deliberation by the Special Masters, judges responsible for claims filed in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. In his opinion on general causation, and the specific case of Michelle Cedillo, Special Master George Hastings wrote, “The petitioners have failed to persuade me that there is validity to any of their general causation arguments, and have also failed to persuade me that there is any substantial likelihood that Michelle’s MMR vaccination contributed in any way to the causation of any of Michelle’s own disorders.”  A subsequent ruling in 2010 declared that there was not sufficient scientific evidence to suggest that thimerosal-containing vaccines alone can cause autism.   In one opinion, Special Master George Hastings wrote, “This case, however, is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ causation theories…In short, this is a case in which the evidence is so one-sided that any nuances in the interpretation of the causation case law would make no difference to the outcome of the case.”  

The recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholding the 2009 case caused many in the vaccine-advocacy community to exhale a sigh of relief.  Time and again the scientists have studied the safety of vaccines and specifically any role they might play in the causation of autism.  Time and again these studies have declared vaccines to be safe.  Unfortunately the public, and on some occasions our legal system, does not respect the weight of evidence supporting the safety and very necessity of life-saving vaccines.  Fortunately, the Special Masters and Federal Circuit have based their judgments on the expert opinions of the scientific community.

As we battle epidemic levels of pertussis and have seen the rise in the spread of once controlled measles, we are reminded of the precarious nature of the public health system.  Families who once had faith in our public health experts are now lending credence to the unsupported theories of a very small but highly vocal community of anti-vaccine crusaders.  Sadly, children are becoming the ultimate victims of the battle between science, the legal system and celebrities.  We are hopeful that parents will find solace in the federal courts’ decisions, heed the advice of their physicians, and have confidence in their decision to protect children against deadly diseases by vaccinating them on time.

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