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Vaccines aren't to blame for autism, a special federal court declared Thursday in a blow to thousands of families hoping to win compensation and to many more who are convinced of a connection.
The special masters who decided the case expressed sympathy for the families, some of whom have made emotional pleas describing their children's conditions, but the rulings were blunt: There's little if any evidence to support claims of a vaccine-autism link.
The evidence "is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive," concluded Special Master Denise Vowell. "Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding" of autism.
Science years ago reached the conclusion that there's no connection, but Thursday's rulings in a trio of cases still have far-reaching implications -- offering reassurance to parents scared about vaccinating their children because of a small but vocal anti-vaccine movement. Some diseases preventable with vaccines, including measles, are on the rise, and last fall a Minnesota baby who hadn't been vaccinated against meningitis died of that disease.
"We are thrilled," Dr. Jack Stephens, a pediatrician with The Everett Clinic, said of Thursday's court decision.
Stephens said parents often ask about the connection between immunizations and autism.
"I think we need to be honest about what we know and what we don't know," he said. "We don't know what causes autism. It's very hard to tell a parent that your child has a significant, life-long condition that I can't cure. And we don't know why this happened."
Although some people may try to pass off the court decision as part of a coverup, Stephens said he thinks the ruling will help swing public confidence.
Sometimes parents ask if they can space out the immunizations a little more broadly, which he said he is willing to do.
"Most people are just trying to do the right thing for their children," Stephens said.
In most cases, he said he's able to answer the questions and allay parents' concerns, and the child receives his or her routine vaccinations.
Dr. Roger Case, health officer for Island County, said he was happy to see the court "come down on the side of what we have known for many years -- there is no connection between autism and immunizations."
Many of the parents in Island County who don't allow their children to get routine immunizations do so because they're opposed to immunizations in general, not necessarily because of the fear of a link between immunizations and autism, he said.
"I think the faith they have in the physician has a lot to do with whether or not they'll proceed with immunizations," Case said.
The special court represented a chance for vindication for families who blame vaccines for their children's autism. Known as "the people's court," the U.S. Court of Claims is different from many other courts: The families involved didn't have to prove the inoculations definitely caused the complex neurological disorder, just that they probably did.
More than 5,500 claims have been filed by families seeking compensation through the government's Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and Thursday's rulings dealt with the first three test cases to settle which if any claims had merit. The first cases argued that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, known by its shorthand MMR, plus other shots triggered autism.
"I must decide this case not on sentiment but by analyzing the evidence," said Special Master George Hastings Jr., writing specifically about Michelle Cedillo of Yuma, Ariz., who is disabled with autism, inflammatory bowel disease and other disorders that her parents blame on a measles vaccine given at 15 months.
"Unfortunately, the Cedillos have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment," Hastings concluded.
Attorneys for the families said they were disappointed and may appeal.[/b]
I don't know if the matter will ever truly be settled. I think there will still be a few fringe individuals who will still refuse to vaccinate on these grounds. It's kind of ironic that some of the kids who weren't vaccinated because the mother was afraid it would cause autism are autistic anyway.
From everything that I've read and observed about autism, I think it is genetic. If you look back far enough in the family tree, there's usually at least one or two people who would be considered on the spectrum today. Maybe the parents don't know about this person because he was shut away or put in an institution and no one ever spoke of him. I've heard many stories of parents who get their own ASD diagnosis after their child is diagnosed. There are also way too many changes between the brain of an autistic child and a neurotypical child for me to think that it was caused by a shot. The brains of autistic kids are often larger than their typical peers and different parts are over and underdeveloped, which causes me to think that this happens in utero. I don't think these kids have genetic autism. I think either they have something else which we don't have a name for yet but we lump in with autism or they were autistic to begin with and it wasn't really noticeable until toddlerhood because that's when a lot of the more complicated social and language milestones begin. Another possibility that happens with some kids is that they have a reaction to the vaccine which causes seizures and the seizures then cause a neurological disorder that looks like autism but isn't. I hope that we can uncover this mystery soon so it can put the debate to rest. And before some non-vax person comes in here to debate me and say that I don't know anything, I've been studying autism for about 4 years starting when I diagnosed myself with Asperger Syndrome and then was officially diagnosed and I'm planning to go to college soon to get my psychology degree and either do research on autism or work with kids on the spectrum.
I remember on family who have 5 boys. Their first was vaccinated on schedual and everything and he is autistic. For years they claimed it was the fault of the vaccine. Then they had 4 more boys, NONE are vaccinated and all 4 have autism. I think these kinds of stories need to be heard more. They really do point towards genetics rather then vaccinations.
I've worked with a few autistic children and while they are hard to deal with compaired to "normal" children there is just something about them. A special charm that I can't explain that lights up a room.
But then I feel that way about any child with special needs. My best friend for example has non vocal CP, she's stuck in a wheelchair, can't talk, can't really do anything. But her spirit shines through. I have 2 learning disabilities myself so I find I have more patients and understanding for peoples with disabilities then the average person, excluding parents of course.
Maybe someday we can find something that will help ALL these children lead more "normal" lives.
We just need to stop the needless fear and blame. All it does is cause more problems.