Parents Testify in Autism Vaccine CaseMay 13, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Testimony resumed this week in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in a long-running case that involves thousands of children with autism. The children’s parents claim regressive autism—in which normally developing children suddenly exhibit learning disorders and behavioral problems; age of onset is typically between ages one and two—was triggered by an early childhood vaccination containing thimerosal.
The thimerosal-autism issue has been hotly debated and vigorously studied in recent years. And, yes, autism diagnoses have increased exponentially in recent decades; however, there is ongoing disagreement regarding the link. Some parent groups and lawmakers feel the preservative, which contains mercury, has caused a rash of new autism cases.
Autism, also called “classical autism,” is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and is characterized by impaired social interaction; problems with verbal and nonverbal communication; and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. Experts estimate three to six out of every 1,000 children will have autism, with males four times more likely to have autism than females.
Two families are serving as test cases in this second of a three-phase review of evidence being reviewed by a special federal court meant to compensate victims of injuries caused by vaccines. This phase is scheduled to run three weeks and each phase involves a review of representative cases of autistic children and their medical history to determine whether there is a link between autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines. Nearly 5,000 other autism claims are pending.
A plaintiff attorney disputed what he said is the government's focus on defending the nation's vaccination program. The government's defense rests largely on research done no later than 2004. Thimerosal was removed from infant vaccines in 1999.
Meanwhile, during his campaign in Texas, Republican hopeful Senator John McCain was quoted as saying, “It’s indisputable that autism is on the rise among children. The question is, what’s causing it?” Given that the US Department of Health and Human Services concluded that childhood vaccines contributed to the symptoms of one girl’s autism, McCain’s comments were timely, if nothing else. The family of Hannah Poling, nine, of Athens, Georgia is entitled to receive compensation from a federal vaccine injury fund. In a court document, the government said vaccines aggravated “a rare underlying metabolic condition that resulted in a brain disorder with features similar of autism spectrum disorder.” According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, as many as one in 150 children in some communities have autism disorders.
Also, a new study of Texas school district and industrial mercury-release data, which was conducted by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, reveals that there is a statistically significant link between the pounds of industrial release of mercury and an increase in autism rates. The study examined mercury-release data from 39 coal-fired power plants and 56 industrial facilities in Texas and autism rates from 1,040 Texas school districts and confirmed—for the first time in scientific literature—that there is a statistically significant link between autism risk and distance from the mercury source. The study revealed mounting evidence that children and other developing organisms are more susceptible to neurobiological effects of mercury.