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Families Argue Autism Link Before Vaccine Court

On June 11, 2007 court proceedings began for cases involving mercury-containing preservative thimerosal in vaccines. More than 4,800 claims have been made by families of autistic children alleging that thimerosal caused their children’s autism. These families will have to go before a special “Vaccine Court” and convince a panel of three judges that childhood vaccines are responsible for their children’s autism.

The Department of Health and Human Services (the defendant in this case) contends that current research shows that there is no link between thimerosal and autism because every major study shows no association. The majority of the government’s evidence is epidemiological, based on large population studies of computerized data. This evidence includes studies done by the CDC, and research done in Sweden, Denmark and the UK. The government also claims that because thimerosal was removed from vaccines in 1999, the autism rates would be much lower if thimerosal actually caused autism. Rates of autism are still high and continue to grow.

Plaintiffs were denied access to the government’s vaccine database of patients, who were used in the CDC study that found no link between thimerosal and autism. An earlier version of the study demonstrated an increased risk for some neurodevelopmental disorders, depending on the dose of thimerosal given. The burden of proof for plaintiffs is lower in Vaccine Court than in other federal courts, which could help the petitioners have a more even playing field.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers will argue that the studies presented by the government do not prove causation because of problems, weaknesses and limitations in their studies. For example, the CDC found an autism rate of 11-per-10,000 children, when the actual rate is 73-per-10,000. The petitioner will use data from animal models, test tube studies, and studies of children, to present a biological model in which mercury could cause autistic-like symptoms.

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