March 12, 2010

Putting the final stake through its heart: Thimerosal and Autism

Finally. From the LA Times:

'Vaccines court' rejects mercury-autism link in 3 test cases
The finding supports a broad scientific consensus that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, and will likely disappoint parents who are convinced otherwise.

Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles The federal “vaccines court” ruled Friday in three separate cases that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, a finding that supports the broad scientific consensus on the matter but that greatly disappointed parents who are convinced that their child's illness was caused by vaccines.

The court had ruled 13 months ago that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, commonly known as the MMR vaccine, and thimerosal does not cause the disorder, so the new ruling may finally close the bulk of litigation on the matter. The earlier ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and this one most likely will be also, but most experts think the court will uphold the decision.

A claim that the MMR vaccine alone causes autism has been withdrawn by parents.

More than 5,300 parents had filed claims with the vaccines court, a branch of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking damages because they believed their children had developed autism as a result of vaccinations. And they reacted bitterly to Friday's ruling.

“Find me another industry where the U.S. government defends their product in court and funds the science that exonerates them,” said J.B. Handley, a founder of Generation Rescue in Sherman Oaks and father of a child with autism. “The average citizen has no hope.”

The cases that three judges, called special masters, chose to rule on as test cases were considered among the strongest, so the outlook appears grim for others making the same claim. Each ruled on one case.

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.”

In a separate ruling, Special Master George L. Hastings wrote: “This case . . . is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners' causation theories.”

My heart goes out to the parents of Autistic children but it is awesome that this trope has been squashed for good. The initial Wakefield paper was a piece of stunningly bad labwork with a sample size of twelve children. (here, here and especially here) That got the snowball rolling and nobody ever bothered to check the facts, they just plastered their own anecdotal data to the original Wakefield paper and kept on rolling downhill getting bigger and bigger.

Good riddance to bad science!

Posted by DaveH at March 12, 2010 09:05 PM | TrackBack
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