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February 12th, 2009
01:03 PM ET

Court rules vaccines not to blame for autism

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

There is a special court, known colloquially as a vaccine court. It is a place where judges called “special masters,” who are legal experts, not medical doctors, hear claims about vaccine injuries. It’s been around since the late 80s, in part prompted by the scare over the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine possibly causing injuries. If the court finds that an injury was likely caused by a vaccine, it can make a monetary award. For example, a few years ago, there was a case of optic neuritis after the tetanus vaccine. Other awards were given for fibromyalgia after the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine; transverse myelitis after the HiB (Haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccine; and Guillain-Barre and MS after the hepatitis B vaccine.

Many people started paying attention to the court after the federal government last year awarded damages to the family of Hannah Poling, conceding that Hannah was injured by a vaccine, causing her autism-like symptoms. (Read about Hannah’s case here) According to the Department of Justice, more than 1,500 people have been paid in excess of $1.18 billion since the inception of the program in 1988.

There is no question there is lots of money at play here. For more than 20 years now, the program has been funded by an excise tax of 75 cents on every purchased dose of covered vaccine. And, with today’s decision, some of the big questions about vaccines and autism are being addressed. It is worth noting the standard the court was using allowed for the petitioners (the parents of the children with autism) to demonstrate “biologic plausibility” as opposed to direct cause and effect. Scientifically, biological plausibility is an easier standard to meet. (Read about vaccine court now).

While this can by no means be a complete overview of the hundreds of pages that composed the ruling (read the decisions here), it is safe to say that the court found no biological plausibility of a connection between autism and either the MMR vaccine, or the combination of MMR vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines: no awards will be granted in any of these test cases. We spent some time with Michelle Cedillo, one of the children represented in the test cases last year (meet her here). You will no doubt hear a lot more about this in the days to come. Within the world of autism and vaccines, this is a huge deal and a major ruling.

Couple of points: Remember that thimerosal is a mercury-derived preservative that was present in many childhood vaccines that did not contain a live virus (for example, the MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal). Nowadays thimerosal has been removed from or reduced to trace amounts in all vaccines that are routinely recommended for children six years of age and younger, with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine. In case you are curious, a preservative-free version of the inactivated influenza vaccine (contains trace amounts of thimerosal) is available in limited supply at this time for use in infants, children and pregnant women. And, in the interest of clarity, vaccines with trace amounts of thimerosal contain 1 microgram or less of mercury per dose. (Learn more about vaccines here)

On page 278 of the decision in of the cases, Snyder v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, the statements even get a little snide. The special master, Denice K. Vowell, wrote “to conclude that Colten’s condition was the result of his MMR vaccine, an objective observer would have to emulate Lewis Carroll’s White Queen and be able to believe the six impossible (or, at least highly improbable) things before breakfast.” She goes on to say “the families of ASD and the court have waited in vain for adequate evidence to support the autism–MMR hypothesis.”

So, do you feel like you are gazing through the “looking-glass?”

I hope you get a chance to click on the links above and read the rulings. You will find that not all the experts agreed with one another and the evidence is worth reading. After that, I’m eager to hear what you think.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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soundoff (903 Responses)
  1. Frank

    Of course pharm comps were going to win. Other countries would attack us if they found out that the US goven't have also poison their children.

    February 12, 2009 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ERW

    Correlation does not equal causation...

    I have an almost 8 year old son with autism – he is the love of my life!

    My family insists that the vaccines are to blame, but I have never thought as much. At 18 months he only spoke one word, so it wasn't a case where he suddenly lost developments that he had gained.

    As any parent I want to protect him at all costs, but at this point trying to find someone or something to blame for his being autistic is useless. I would much rather focus my time and energy on making him the best little man that he can be.

    Is putting a child at risk for cripling diseases and possibly even death worth it just because some one doesn't want to 'deal' with an autistic child? There are worse things than raising an autistic child, challenging as it may be.

    February 12, 2009 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Aaron

    @Gloria Rosario, the condition of your son is certainly tragic; I have known families with autistic children, and I know what they go through on a day to day basis. But your tragedy cannot be an excuse to drop all rational investigations and act on emotion.

    You said that you believe vaccines are to blame for your son's autism, and your SOLE reason for this belief is that they don't print warnings on vaccines. Really? From the lack of a warning, how do you conclude that autism is the result? That's not a rational conclusion. A more rational conclusion is that vaccines are only to be administered at medical facilities, and as such would include a discussion of the risks involved. Or even if there are some side-effects that are not reported, I don't see how autism is automatically the most-likely side-effect (would you make the same conclusion for every single medical treatment that has side-effects?)

    Furthermore (and more importantly), all of the evidence in favor of a vaccine-autism link has turned out to have been forged. Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who reported the findings, falsified the medical records of the individuals used in his study. See:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article5683671.ece

    February 12, 2009 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. tahu

    While there may be some environmental causes of autism, in my humble opinion, more and more autism will be found to be genetic is cause – either by a single gene (e.g.fragile x syndrome) or a combination of genes, or susceptible by gene and influenced by environment – some cancers)

    So while delicate feelings abound when one talks about children – I hope that this will bring more research to finding genetic causes and for curing either the symptoms of autism or its genetic mechanisms.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mike

    I believe vaccines do have a strong link to autism. If not why is there language in the bill for the Patriot Act that made Pharmaceutical companies exempt from prosecution on the autism vaccine link!

    February 12, 2009 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Carl DeFranco

    This issue is very similar to others in which causation was attributed to factors that later proved to be irrelevant. We humans tend to react emotionally to problems with our children's health, and we are far too willing to mistake coincidence- something that occurs in parallel with something else – for causation – something that brings about another effect. Because autism tend sto develop around the same time as the scheduled vaccinations, any sickness that occurs obviously must be a direct result of the vaccination, right? Wrong – that's merely coincidence. To prove causation, you must show that only those with that single factor showed the effect, and those without it did not show the effect...at least within statistical significance.

    Case in point: leaky silicone breast implants were blamed for a number of conditions. The resulting legal onslaught bankrupted at least one company, made millions for lawyers and plaintiffs. Sadly, years afterward, completed scientific studies showed, cleary, that there was no causal link, that women without implants were suffering the same medical problems at the same rates as those with them.

    I can't claim that drug companies aren't happy about the ruling, but please stop with the conspiracy theories because the decision went their way.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Daniel

    As to risk, you have to balance the risk to the risk of the disease being vaccinated against. I know there are plenty of people who have been killed or injured because they were allergic to the Polio vaccine, for example, but I guarantee you it isn't nearly as many people as were injured or killed by Polio.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Lindsay

    In the spirit of full disclosure, let me preface my comments with the following:
    – I am not a mother, sister, daughter, or any other relation that I know of to an autistic person, nor do I have any close friends who are autistic, so I cannot (and do not) claim to know the difficulties of the condition for either the individual or the family.
    – I am an engineer and researcher, and as such am likely biased towards information documented in scientific, scholarly literature, though I do not have an iota of medical training.

    I understand and empathize with what is almost certainly an instinctual need to find a reason and cause for that which deprives us of, for lack of a better term, a 'normal' life. But history is full of examples of people assigning, many times incorrectly and without proper evidence or training, the reasons for their misfortune – often with disastrous consequences. In the case of autism, it seems as though another witch hunt has begun – and the scientific research and studies supporting the lack of a connection between autism and vaccines is being ignored in favor of anecdotal evidence (like that of the previous comment: all medicines have side effects, so vaccines must have side effects, so autism must be a side effect of vaccines). And already the consequences are emerging in the form of measles outbreaks and the threat of a polio resurgence. I'm not suggesting that these conjectures are without grounds – in fact I believe them to have been the cause, perhaps, of much needed rigorous studies into the causes of autism. But it seems as though an overwhelming consensus has been reached among medical and scientific authorities that the "vaccines cause autism" hypothesis is false. Of course, I do not think that we should follow blindly the deductions of the medical community – after all it was a report in a respected medical journal (whose data has only recently been found to have been fraudulent) that began the autism-vaccine outcry. But faced with the substantial, well studied, and thoroughly reviewed arguments of many more people who know a much more than I do about the subject, I am personally willing to acknowledge that we should concentrate our efforts on finding the cause or causes of autism elsewhere. Doing so requires patience – and to ask such reserve of those suffering from autism personally or as family members is perhaps cruel, especially when the answer seemed so close. But identifying a convenient cause won't prevent or cure autism – we need to find the correct cause. Let us continue to challenge and demand excellence from the medical community in studying the cause and prevention of autism, but let us likewise respect their collective training and expertise so that we may all move more quickly towards a meaningful breakthrough.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jenny

    As a physician – and a pediatrician – I applaud this ruling. We have been following these studies for years, which have disproved the original Wakefield study "results" from the late 90s. Autism is a devastating diagnosis for the child and their family, it's natural to want to find the cause and prevent it in the future. However, the bad reputation given to vaccines in general, and the MMR specifically, have far-reaching consequences. If I ever felt vaccines were to blame, I would never recommend them to my patients or agree to give them to my children.

    We KNOW there is a genetic component to autism (the concordance rate in sibs is higher than that in the general population, and in twins even more than that ) and we suspect there is an environmental component as well – but it is NOT vaccines. Is it aspartame? The lead-based paint from foreign toys? BGH in milk? (In the not-to-distant past of the 1940s, autism was felt to be caused by mothers not loving and nurturing their children enough). Nobody knows, but the amount of money spent trying to tie vacines into all of this could be much better spent trying to find the true culprit.

    Some of the increased rate in autism and ASDs is due to looking for it – I can think of a handful of kids in my grade school who landed up in special classes and were labelled as "retarded" who would fit ASD criteria as we know them today.

    We need to spend the resources out there helping these children achieve their full potential, to provided respite and support for their families, and to find out why we are seeing so much ASD today.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Kirstin

    Response to Nancy Hamilton...

    You comment #1 is in error...

    1) Large epidemiological studies clearly show that there are no significant differences in the rate of autism in vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated kids

    In all truth, this study has NEVER been done. I am so tired of hearing this falsehood reported over and over. In all of the studies that have been done, they have compared different vaccines schedules, but never vaccinated vs. UN-VACCINATED children. Many in the autism community have requested for years that this study be done and feel that this would answer the question for once and all. I

    February 12, 2009 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Russell

    Step 1 -Please someone anyone who declares research has shown there is no link between autism and vaccines, post a citation to a research article.

    Step 2 – Now post one that is not funded by big pharma.

    You cannot do it! Prove all of us wrong. If the research is there just post it. It is so easy! Just post the research. Many have claimed its existence. Post it. Dr. Gupta is or was up for Surgeon General. I am sure he can post it. Where is it. Didn't see it in the article.

    THANKS to Dr. Gupta for providing this forum and posting information from both sides. I have even more respect for you now.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Marlin

    If 5000+ reported adverse events and class action lawsuits occured from any new drug, what would be the ruling? And "proving" that autism is not caused by vaccines does not prove that the overall chance of vaccine side effects outweighs the risk of getting the disease. Vaccines have saved millions of lives, but not progressing their research, development and manufacture could greatly change the public opinion of risk and reward. A good question is what are the risks of getting any of the vaccination diseases? How many people today are coming down with Polio? And does the government have a special fund and committee set up for Polio victim compensation?

    February 12, 2009 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Zach

    I really find some of these statements difficult to read. I work with children with Autism on a daily basis and have the best job in the world!

    Autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of varying difficulties/symptoms and I FIRMLY believe wholeheartedly that vacinations play some role in the early development stages of life.

    There are too many common denominators that can prove this time and time again. Until someone out there can explain to me with FACTUAL EVIDENCE that there is NO WAY POSSIBLE a vaccination can be linked with Autism there is no amount of reasoning that can convince me otherwise.

    There are families desperate for answer and it's time their voices be heard! Cancer and Alzheimer's are diseases we are learning more about all the time. When will Autism prove worthy of more dollars for research? We need it desperately, lives are being destroyed and families are suffering.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. PLD

    This long term study confirmed the absence of a connection:

    Autism cases in California continued to climb even after a mercury-rich vaccine preservative that some people blame for the neurological disorder was removed from routine childhood shots, a new study found....

    If there was a risk...autism rates should have dropped between 2004 and 2007.

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/dailydose/12/04/autism.mercury/index.html

    February 12, 2009 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Kimberly

    I enjoyed reading this article and the responses that it elicited. I rarely respond to articles myself, but I feel that people need to realize that the scientific community is not involved in some big cover-up and lying to the public about vaccinations. People often don't trust science because they have very little knowledge about it, and, quite frequently they gain what knowledge they have from the internet. Indicative of this is the comment by John Smyth that said to "google vaccines+truth."

    While the internet can be a valuable resource, and certainly there are legitimate sites on Autism and vaccinations, there are plenty of sites who claim to have "absolute proof of a vaccine-autism link" that do not have this evidence. Are there people working to make sure that it's true there is no link? Absolutely. Should we trust a panel of legal experts in a special court? Maybe not. Should we be talking about autism and vaccines? Yes, if only to educate people about what real data is out there, so they don't get their ire up over something they know nothing about.

    The truth is, as Dr. Gupta said, there is no medical evidence that there is a link between Autism and vaccines. If there were a link found in humans, at best it would be a correlation. This is why it is important to find a good animal model of autism so the cause-effect studies can be done. I don't think we should abandon the idea that vaccines may have neural/behavioral side effects, but I do think that as long as there is no correlative evidence found in humans we should focus our energies largely elsewhere, namely genetic and other environmental causes.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. T Bone

    I feel awful for anyone struggling with a sick child.
    Curious: you may have hit the nail on the head with this one.
    I find it amazing that everything must be explained or proven; as we as a race are simply not capable of doing so. Our methods are not there and money plays such a huge role in society that many finding cannot be trusted. We must all do our due deligence and make decisions based on what we feel is best. I believe vaccines have improved and are less dangerous now then 10 20 years ago, and to not give a child some is irresposible, simarley threating someone that does not vaccinate is a laughable. I think civilazation is changing course again, what it holds for us we may not like. It might be what we need as evolution has been thwarted for long enough.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Scott

    Originally it was the mercury in the vaccines that led to autism, and the manufacturers bent to the pressure and removed the preservative from the vaccines. Now after finding out that even without the mercury in the vaccines the number of cases of autism have still risen, it is just the vaccines themselves that lead to autism. What are people going to blame next?

    February 12, 2009 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. John Moore

    As a professional scientist, I am greatly relieved that the Vaccine Court has made this ruling, as there is simply no credible scientific evidence whatsoever for any linkage between vaccination and autism. Scientifically, this has been a nonsensical story all along. It has been driven by pseudoscientists, cranks and personal injury lawyers who stand to profit from the misfortune suffered by parents and children, together with sloppy journalists who simply don't understand what they are writing about and can't be bothered to take the trouble to discriminate between good science and pseudoscience.

    A very small number of science professionals are also culpable, and their roles in these shameful events should be investigated by the relevant professional organizations. Children have died as a result of reduced use of vaccines, and through using quack "autism cures" (sic). Anyone interested in reading more about what has happened should consult Paul Offit's marvellous book "Autism's deadly prophets" and also Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" book and web pages. Brian Deer's exposure of Andrew Wakefield in the London Sunday Times last weekend is also a fascinating read about what happens when scientists fail to follow the right professional standards and thereby betray public trust.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tamika Walker

    And These "Special Master" a small group that reside over many! Why would the government admit ANYTHING! I mean look into the history "the Tuskegee experiment" is a classic example of what sheep we are, and it would cost the government billions if not trillions to admit these huge error's. So why are we waiting for them to admit it or point out the connections! WE HAVE THE EVIDENCE! It's in our children! WE as parents are experiencing this.... NOT just one or two and not just ten or twenty.... BUT THOUSANDS. It's sad... it really is... We didn't ask for this.... And why when the vaccines formula is changed does the rate of increase in PDD decrease... Hmmmmm, i wonder.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Claire

    As a research scientist, I base my decisions on a matter on facts. In regards to this, the research seems to point to no link between autism and vaccines. I have a problem with people who make decisions just because "they think things are right". My heart goes out to parents with autistic children, however, I feel instead of putting all of our focus on the "vaccines cause autism" debate, we should be putting money into funding other projects that could find out the underlying causes of autism. It could be that there is indeed a genetic basis for autism. Given the right environment, the physical manifestation of autism could be triggered. That is why it is so important to fund basic research.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Theresa

    As a scientist at a major university and having many colleagues that are experts in infectious disease and vaccinations, I do not believe that there is a link between these vaccines and autism. Autism is more likely the result of a genetic mutation, since it has been shown that the twin of an autistic individual is more likely to also be autistic. The symptoms of autism become apparent around the same time that children are receiving their vaccinations. This makes people assume that they are related, but is just a temporal coincidence. Parents fear over vaccines has led to many new outbreaks of the measles. What else will come back... polio?... I think Jonas Salk would be rolling in his grave. Lastly, autism has been around for quite a while, so when there were no vaccines, what was causing it? Again, I think it is a unfortunate genetic mutation. I feel sorry for parents of autistic children, I know many myself, but people should not fear the vaccinations that have saved so many lives.

    On a side note: The girl who received the monetary compensation had a mitochondrial disorder, which may have contributed to the problem.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Randall Fry

    What in God's kingdom is MERCURY doing in a vaccine? Quit calling it Thimerosal! It is 49% MERCURY – one of the most toxic brain attacking elements in the world. The answer is this: If it were to be concluded that MERCURY in the vaccines is killing, maiming and sickening our population (which it IS), the Class action lawsuit aginst the Dental Industry for MERCURY fillings would make the Federal Reserve Theft look miniscule in proportion.
    All about the money. Always has been, always will be – Oh, and Eugenics too! Keep MERCURY out of the food chain, PERIOD...

    February 12, 2009 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Andy

    The evidence only shows that thimerosal did not cause autism.
    The evidence does not show that vaccination does not cause autism.

    The over use of ever increasing number of vaccines, many of them given on the same day, is a profound stress on baby immune systems. the side effects of which are largely unknown.

    Vaccine induced stress on baby immune systems can cause serious medical problems, which might well include autism.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. maggie

    Jeff in Illinois asked if it's necessary to vaccinate against influenza. I say emphatically yes! Do a little reading about the terrible epidemics such as the one in 1918 and you will never again question the necessity of vaccinating against it. Many people make the mistake of thinking influenza is just a bad cold. It is much more than that, and kills thousands of people every year just in this country alone.

    Also, if vaccines cause autism, why is it that most of the people who are vaccinated do not develop autism? Someone else here asked if there could be a link between genetic predisposition and the vaccines. I agree that should be investigated.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Flo, Denver

    Sanjay Gupta,

    I hope you read this because some of us are not so easily convinced that anyone in the legal or medical field would tell us the truth and whole truth about these vaccines possibly causing autism. I have a grown son that looking back had all the signs of autism before the term became widespread. To this day he is barely a functioning adult. Yet my other children also had early vaccines and show no signs of autism. So it's obvious that not every child that get early childhood vaccines would end up with autism. On the other hand, any doctor, lawyer, or judge who blankedly state autism is not caused by vacines should have their license ripped. It goes without saying that everything put in the human body has side affects. Some are good side affects and others are straight from hell itself.

    I hope someone looks into this much further but this time instead of considering the possible money made/lost I hope someone thinks to check for the whole truth.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Jen

    As a double major in biochemistry and psychology, I've done a fair bit of reading about both vaccines and autism. I do not understand where this claim is even coming from. I think people just wanted an answer and a quick fix to a problem that has yet to have one. It may be that the ASDs are all caused by different things. It is not unjust to to tell someone that they are putting others at risk when they do not get their child vaccinated. Since this story first became big in the summer of 2007, there was a minor outbreak of the measles I believe. Many of the children who contracted it were too young to be vaccinated, but were in daycare with children whose parents decided to not have them vaccinated.

    While I am more likely to believe the theory that children with an immediate response to the vaccination are more prone to autism, I do not necessarily believe that it was the vaccine that causes it. A vaccine is made from the virus itself. There is an immunological response to it. It could be that these children would have had the same response to their first major infection.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Amy

    I really don't understand why this is still an issue. The science is clear. The levels of Autism in vaccinated and unvaccinated kids are the same. As a researcher there are a number of promising places to look for the mechanisms behind autism, but the political pressure (and the funding sources) are all about adding to the already established result. All of the well meaning parents groups (that will not be convinced no matter how many studies find no connection between the vaccines and autism) are just redirecting funding from more promising research back to the vaccines.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Linda

    I have a child with autism and from everything I have studied and read about autism I have learned that all these kids have one thing in common VACCINES. Their DNA is different, their enviroment is different, their lifestyle, eating habits, medical backgrounds are all different, but most all of them had the MMR and most all of the parents of autistic children noticed the difference AFTER this vaccine. The ONE COMMON THREAD is the vaccine. My child never had the 5 year old booster of the mmr, because I was afraid it would make her worse. Now I am terrified of an outbreak, but still I dont want her to have another mmr because she is functioning pretty good right now. One day, I believe they will find the connection, I just wonder if when they do, they will let us know. I dont care about collecting alot of money from a lawsuit, I just want my grandchildren to be safe when they get their shots.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. nexus

    Dan: If he's from a country that has very few vaccines, chances are he's never heard of autism because they dont' diagnose it. Your statement had many faults in it.

    And, like everyone else siding with SCIENCE.. why has the cases of autism went UP instead of DOWN since the mercury was taken out? Also, if you read up on the mercury in the preservative, it keylates out of your body naturally, unlike methylmercury, which bioaccumulates. chances are in recent years, Autism is diagnosed at a higher rate than before. I've heard people say about people they know "he wasn't diagnosed with autism, because noone knew what it was.. he was just considered aloof and without emotion." Sound familiar to other people?

    Let's be reasonable here. People can now be scared of something that has no science backing (vaccines=autism), or you could bring back the nasties of the world: Measles, whooping cough, scarlett fever, polio, small pox, mumps...need I go on?

    And the rise of severe food allergies is now giving rise to something fun: TOO Clean. We shelter our children from every day run of the mill virii, but to the point their immune system doesn't develop properly. I read an article that there is starting to be a correlation in that. Also, our bodies weren't designed to eat bleached white bread all the time.. so instead of feeding your kids processed crap, how about whole foods that actually have nutrition?

    -soon to be a Dad.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Dan

    I agree with those who have said that we should not treat both sides equally. Cruel and immoral swindlers like JC's hero Dr. Fudenberg (who sells "cures" for autism for profit and has lost his license to practice medicine in South Carolina due to dishonesty and fraud) are no different than Nigerian princes scamming people via e-mail. And while it might be easier for parents to keep believing in the non-existent link between autism and vaccines (just as it might be easier for an e-mail scam victim to keep sending payments to the prince in hopes that one day he'll appear on her doorstep with a suitcase full of money), it needs to be acknowledged that there are real and terrible consequences for this belief in fairy tales. Believing in UFOs with no evidence is relatively harmless. Refusing to vaccine one's child risks the re-emergence of tragic diseases that we had all but eradicated. I agree, we should be cautious of claims by the pharmaceutical industry and we should ensure that results of studies are inspected and re-produced. But that has already been done. The results are in. The game is over. It's time to move on.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. John Hudson

    We have friends who love and care for autistic children and grandchildren and my heart goes out to Mrs Rosario.
    I first heard of this theory from those friends 10 or 12 years ago – also fluoridated water and radiation from microwaves and overhead powerlines- It's normal to try to find a link between those things we can get our head around to explain that which we don't understand. Since that time, millions have been spent trying to find out if the link is real- During that time the drug industry removed the suspected material from most vaccines. The results- over and over– There's nothing there. My understanding now is that (1) it's probably genetic with the new theory that in our modern life experience, Geeks and Nerds-of which I'm a charter member- are more sucessful breeders than they were 100 years ago.and (2) milder variations that in the past might be written off as "Johnny's a litle odd" or "Why don't they do something about that kid" now get a diagnosis.
    No doubt in 50 years we'll know more; but, we'll get there faster if we stop spending our money and research trying to force "Square facts" into " Round theories"

    February 12, 2009 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. PEGGY

    I would like to know when mercury was first introduced as a preservative in vaccines and if there is a correlation between that time and any increases in the number of autistic children. It would appear that with the removal of mercury from vaccines, there should be a corresponding drop in autistic cases if in fact there is a connection. That in itself would add credence to the connection between vaccines and autism.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Scott

    Having read the comments above, I could not help but see the pattern of people shouting "Cover-Up! Cover-Up" and have become saddened by it. If parents are so certain that there is a massive cover-up by physicians that has caused so many children to suffer, why go to a single doctor ever? Surely such widespread maliciousness would be obvious that physicians are not to be trusted, especially if they care so little for millions of children.

    As a physician scientist I certainly hope for the best outcome of any of my patients and also hope that my contributions to medical science will make a difference in patients' lives in the future. It is all any physician can hope for and I have to tell you that I am certain that my colleagues feel the same way (or we wouldn't have gone into medicine in the first place). In terms of this debate and it's sordid beginnings, vaccines are not perfect but prevent millions of deaths while causing very few adverse reactions. Hopefully, we will perfect them in the future but for now we must continue to strive for medical excellence using evidenced based medicine which indicates that vaccines do not cause autism.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. L.W.

    To Cliff Court. I agree with you. It's what my husband and I have thought for years; that our son's condition (Aspergers) was triggered (NOT caused) when he got his vaccinations around 1 year. Up until then, he was on track, babbling and happy, then suddenly started having issues and stopped progressing.

    Fortunately we got help early and along with excellent educational services provided in Huntsville, AL and Phoenix, AZ, he is now a happy 20-year-old, holding 2 part-time jobs and gradually maturing into his own. (Penny, I also agree with you- I wouldn't trade my son's personality and joy of life for anything)

    I also would like to see a study of children who developed disorders (not necessarily autism) after vaccinations. And I do believe in vaccinations; they do much more good than harm. We've been with them too long to remember what it was like before vaccinations, so we don't have any memory of the grief these diseases caused. But check out any Third World country currently in the news for rampant epidemics...

    February 12, 2009 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Nancy Hamilton

    re Kristin: First, If Thimerosol were the cause of autism, then you would expect to see a "dose-response" relationship between thimerosol and rates of autism. Meaning that a a little bit should be worse than none, and a lot worse than a little. This data clearly show nothing of the kind. Second, if thimerosol were the cause, you would expect that the incidence of new cases of autism would have dropped following the reduction or removal of thimerosal from vaccines. This has not happened. There have been numerous studies looking at the epidemiological data. NONE of the high quality studies have found a link.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Frank M

    A while back, my son (age 17), contracted mumps. This despite being vaccinated for it. He was one of "the lucky ones" for whom the disease ignored the vaccinations. It was so severe that he had a high fever for almost 6 days. His Doctors said that there was a very real possibility that he would not be capable of producing children.

    He has not been tested yet. He knows that the possibility is real and accepts it, for now. I believe that a teenage boy doesn't fully grasp the concept of sterility and may even be cavalier about it ("who-hoo, no kids!"). He is sexually active but he knows that he needs to take precautions to avoid STD's at the very least.

    The kicker? He and 3 other kids contracted the disease from a kid who had never been vaccinated and his parents forged his records. It gets better. This kid has a little sister who contracted measles and spread it to 4 other kids in 2nd grade.

    I just don't get it.
    Thousands of kids die every year in car accidents
    Hundreds of kids die from the common flu
    Kids are being permanently injured playing sports and the list goes on and on.

    Why isn't anyone calling for all of these preventable issues to stop?

    Even is there is some link, the fact that kids today have to read about polio, smallpox and all of the illnesses that just a few decades ago killed or crippled untold numbers of kids.

    I feel for the parents of autistic kids, but I suspect that because it is a mental illness there is a stigma attached making parents face a greater societal challenge. It makes it a bit easier to point a finger and blame someone else. Not doing so means that the parents themselves are "at fault" for passing on the illness.

    Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sounds quaint but it is reality.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Kimberly

    In response to several posts, here are a couple of citations:

    Smeeth et al., Lancet, Volume 364, Issue 9438, 11 September 2004-17 September 2004, Pages 963-969.

    Parker et al., Pediatrics, Volume 114 No. 3 September 2004, pp. 793-804

    As for the number of papers in the literature: the thing about negative data is that, unless a study has done something really different from existing studies, chances are it's not going to be published because the scientific community doesn't benefit from 5000 articles saying the same thing.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Kelli Ann Davis

    Amy said:

    "Wouldn’t you be way more upset to have a dead child than a child with autism?"

    What an absolutely ABSURD statement!

    Actually Amy, I'd rather have my perfectly healthy baby boy that was delivered on Aug 3, 1992 BEFORE he was injected with a known neurotoxin in amounts that weren't even deemed safe for a 250 lb adult!

    This ISN'T about the “benefits” of vaccines - THIS IS ABOUT SAFETY.

    Until the government produces the studies that demonstrate the SAFETY of injecting a neurotoxin into an infant, AND until the government can demonstrate the SAFETY of the current vaccine schedule (effects of FULL schedule on long-term health) AND until a study is done comparing totally unvaccinated children to vaccinated children, this issue isn’t going away.

    So in answer to your question Amy, I’d rather have avoided injecting my child with mercury in the first place.

    Kelli Ann Davis

    February 12, 2009 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Robert

    It is very amusing to me when people who do not have a child with autism tell a parent with autism how they should think about this debate. Where do some of you get the nerve? The people saying "my friend has an autistic son/daughter" doesn't give you any more credibility than someone that doesn't know anyone with autism.

    Unless you are a special needs educator (you are truly saints all of you) or the parent of an ASD child you really have zero credibility in telling the other side what we should think. I know something changed in my son short very very soon after his MMR and given that it was not his diet, nor was it his drinking water, now was it his place of residence, nor was it anything else entering or touching his body on a daily basis. The link was there.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Katherine

    One of my sons has autism. One of them does not. They were both vaccinated. However, my older son from _infancy _had a tendency to play repetitious games, rotate wheels over and over, not track us as normal babies do, etc. He was vaccinated first at 6 months, after we noticed his strange behavior. But with vaccines he still progressed normally, just a little differently. We never believed he had autism until his preschool teacher noticed certain behaviors and asked us to have him tested. When we did they found he had ASD.
    @ Deb Quilter (early poster): You know what you speak of when you say 'early intervention' is essential. Since he was diagnosed at 3 yrs, our son has been in therapies and with behavioral modification companions. He is aware enough of others that he has 'learned' social behaviors yet retains the special qualities that are singular to him. He can go to a regular school with some special help there. He can function now (at 6 years old) as a very normal child due to his training, but he is still 'different' and will always be special. We do not always like his behaviors, but we value who he is and what he will contribute to this world someday.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Travis

    My sister has Down Syndrome (neither here nor there), but her birth prompted both of my parents to become Special Education teachers, and my father is an award winning autism specialist. We have all had enough of this vaccine crusade.
    Despite immense effort and research, no link has been established between MMR or thimerosal and autism. Even among children not vaccinated, autism rates continue to rise, and even in places where thimerosal was phased out decades ago, such as Japan, autism is still becoming more prevalent. Autism sets in at a specific young age, which is approximately the age certain vaccines are received. The ages are correlated, unless vaccines are administered earlier or alter in life it will always be correlated with the timing of the onset of ASD symptoms. I am sick and tired of hearing parents claim "my child was fine until they were vaccinated...", when exactly at that age the ASD would emerge anyway.
    This waste of time and effort is caused by parents who simply want something to blame for the condition of their children. The parents who continue to focus on this dead end are not heroes, they are obstructionists. The data imply there are indeed environmental factors at play in autism, but obstructionist parents of autistic children have hijacked the research priorities to focus on their pet vaccine scapegoat. Instead of researching other plausible factors in the development of ASD, such as volatile organic compounds (VOC), the same dead end fight is being waged over and over and over in the utter absence of evidence.
    My heart goes out to all of the parents who would like to search for the real genetic and environmental causes of autism, to find real results and answers, instead of having the media attention and research funds siphoned into this pointless crusade.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Carol Bean

    As the grandmother of a seven-year-old boy diagnosed with either Asperger's or PDD-NOS (depending upon which neurologist you choose to believe), I was disappointed to learn of the decisions of the Grand Masters in these 3 cases. I did read some of each of the decisions and understand why some "experts" were given more credence than others, and why some theories seem more rational than others. What concerns me most is the possibility that these decisions and some recent studies will "close the door" to further research about the potential link between vaccines, the preservative, or both and Autism Spectrum Disorders. It seems to me that for some children (for example, a child who displays one or more symptons of an ASD) an abundance of caution in the vaccination schedule is appropriate. As with most issues, extreme measures are probably not useful, but perhaps a relaxation of the schedule would be prudent. In the case of one of the children, the respondent's experts believe her autism "to have been evident even prior to the MMR vaccination." Why not, in that event, unbundle the vaccinations and give them at slower pace so as to reduce the possibiliy of an adverse reaction? We are very fortunate that our little boy is what they refer to as "very high on the spectrum." He is high functioning, very responsive to therapies, very bright, and mainstreamed in a wonderful public school system. When HHS states on the very day the decision is handed down, "Hopefully the determination by the Special Masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism," I can't help but wonder just for a moment if the political concerns are taken into account in the legal decisions. Frankly, I would have been more reassured if HHS had refrained from making that statement,

    CNN's coverage of autism issues has been very prominent and is very much appreciated.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Robert

    Kelli Ann Davis,
    My heart goes out to you. My son also has autism and the day-to-day is always a challenge, one I love but nontheless a challenge all the same. Every time this makes the news and the ignorant comments start to fly it boils my blood to no end.

    February 12, 2009 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Dr. Mary Megson

    Autism is caused by a sequence of events that disconnect calcium signaling at the cellular level. Pertussis toxin, yeast proteins, measles virus, clostridia toxin and metals all affect calcium signaling. Parents give a history of disorders associated with a G inhibitory protein defect. When pertussis toxin is given they lose the closure switch for L type calcium channels. Measles lands on cell wall receptors and opens these channels. The mercury in vaccines blocks their ability to take calcium in and out of storage within cells. As long as we don't look at this sequence of events that is disconnecting cell signaling autism will remain a mystery. Many children in my practice recover on nutrients that restore cell signaling. One in six children are disabled. This is bigger than one lost case in court, this is destroying Americas future. The truth is staring us in the face and won't go away.

    February 12, 2009 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Gina

    My relevant questions:

    Have there been any studies that look into not just the side effects of vaccinations, but the rate at which they are given? Why can't vaccinations be spread out?

    How long are the tests done on vaccines? Do they periodically re-test these vaccines? Autism is a developmental disease and doesn't appear overnight.

    Do environmental changes alter side effects of vaccines?

    If thimerosal was taken out of MMR's in 1999, why is the rate of autism still going up?

    Could it be environmental and genetic factors in synergy with some part of vaccinations that causes autism?

    Would the FDA be honest if vaccines did cause autism? Maybe they believe that 1 out of 150 kids with autism is better than an outbreak of polio or hepatitis.

    How much pull do pharmaceutical companies have in the FDA? (this is a rhetorical question....)

    Proud Sister,
    Gina

    February 12, 2009 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Nancy Hamilton

    Re Andy: You said

    February 12th, 2009 4:12 pm ET
    The evidence only shows that thimerosal did not cause autism.
    The evidence does not show that vaccination does not cause autism.

    I don't know who you are but I am using the information superhighway to give you an "F" in critical thinking. You can NEVER prove a negative. It is a fundamental impossibility.

    Although I may fail in my attempt to prove that you ARE a space alien. There is no way on God's Green Earth that you can prove that you are NOT a space alien. (Nanoo Nanoo)

    February 12, 2009 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Todd

    Jeff in Illinois,
    the amount of hours kids watch tv has DRAMATICALLY increased over time as both parents work sometimes two jobs, therefore CLEARLY television is responsible for autism.

    Oh wait, the amount of hormones used in cows has increased DRAMATICALLY over time. kids drink lots of milk, therefore the hormones in milk MUST be responsible.

    WAIT, the amount of new pesticeds used on fruits and veggies has increased dramatically over time. kids eat lots of fruits and veggies , therefore PESTICIDES must be responsible.

    Please Jeff – use some common sense before spewing out such fear mongering.

    February 12, 2009 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Gloria Rosario

    I have been reading some of the comments about what I wrote about the vaccines and autism. I have to say that although I believe my son was harmed by his MMR vaccine. I do believe all children should be vaccinated I have an 11 year old Daughter who is up to date with all her vaccines.
    I believe that the my son had some other factor that caused him to react to the vaccine. That's what I want them to look into.
    Filing a law suit is not the answer, the answer is their needs to be more research again so that no other family has to go thru this.
    For those of you who do not have a child with autism, what you do not understand is that I am thinking about the future when I am no longer here. If this problem is not solved the amount of money the government is going to have to spend in the care of these children will be in the billions.

    February 12, 2009 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Sheila Burke

    It is worth noting that, given the growing interest and demand for thimerosal-free influenza vaccine, another fully thimerosal-free influenza vaccine for adults is now available in the U.S. CSL Biotherapies has delivered the largest supply of thimerosal-free influenza vaccine (trivalent, latex-free, single-dose pre-filled syringes) to the U.S. market this season — nearly 6 million doses. Its brand name is Afluria.

    Afluria is currently available for healthcare professionals to order online for this flu season at http://www.mercuryfreefluvaccine.com or through our toll-free number 1-888-435-8633.

    February 12, 2009 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Steve Walker

    I think that unfortunatley we may all just have to wait for the answer.

    “Nowadays thimerosal has been removed from or reduced to trace amounts in all vaccines that are routinely recommended for children six years of age and younger, with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine.”

    If there is some link between mercury or thimerosal levels in vaccines and autism then we should see a decrease in the percentage of children diagnosed with autism over the next decade.

    February 12, 2009 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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