A federal court has issued a ruling that families claiming their child's autism is caused by vaccines will not be eligible for a previously established program to compensate people injured by vaccines.
The special court set up by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that neither a preservative used in vaccines nor the vaccines themselves could be linked to autism.
The ruling, which involved three test cases, affects thousands of children whose parents have filed claims with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Lawyers representing the parents had argued that the preservative thimerosal, which contains mercury, could damage the brains of some children.
They also said that the MMR vaccine, which contains no thimerosal, could cause autism by provoking a dangerous immune response. But government experts countered that more than a dozen large studies have found no connection between vaccines and autism.
Rebecca Estepp, parent support and media relations manager with Talk About Curing Autism, a group representing families of people with autism, believes vaccines caused autism in her son, who is now 11. Her son is among those who have filed through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
"I'm devastated, and I'm trying to figure out how in the world this decision came about today," Estepp says.
During a telephone press conference today, Paul Offitt, the head of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and an international expert on vaccines, called the decision "a great day for science and American children." He said more than a dozen scientific studies have already shown no link between vaccines and autism, and he was pleased that the court agreed.