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Vaccine Prompts Class-Action Lawsuit

Two families claim preservative Thimerosal caused autism in their children

Feb 26, 2003 | Vancouver Sun Niko Soursos of Richmond was born a perfectly healthy boy almost three years ago. He achieved every developmental milestone expected of normally developing children physically, neurologically and socially, says his father, Elias Soursos.

But after receiving three mandatory shots of the hepatitis B vaccine by the time he was eight months old, Niko began displaying signs of neurological damage, becoming more distant, and losing language skills.

Niko was diagnosed with autism last year after his second birthday. His father, a 35-year-old investment adviser with Canaccord Capital, began researching the possible causes of autism a few weeks after his son was diagnosed.

"Doctors used to say this is genetic," the Soursos said Tuesday. He now believes his son's neurological damage was caused by Thimerosal, an organic mercury compound used as a preservative in child vaccines. Two years ago, it was phased out for infant vaccines in Canada. It has also been phased out in the U.S. for infant vaccines.

Soursos says Thimerosal was used in hepatitis B vaccines his son received as part of Richmond's mandatory inoculation program for children.

This week, Soursos was one of two parents who filed separate class-action lawsuits against several drug companies, claiming their sons suffered neurological damage after receiving vaccinations containing Thimerosal.

Soursos is suing drug companies Merck Frosst Canada and GlaxoSmithKline Inc., which made and distributed the vaccines.

He is seeking damages for his son's autism therapy that costs $3,500 a month, part of which is covered by a $1,600-a-month government grant.

His lawsuit claims the drug companies failed to warn of the risks associated with Thimerosal in vaccines.

"The defendants failed to communicate the dangerous nature of the vaccines to the public and must be held accountable for their negligence," Vancouver lawyer David Klein said Tuesday.

Klein is representing the Soursos and the plaintiff in the other class-action lawsuit, Jaqueline Chamberlain of Sooke, whose 10-year-old son Aaron also suffers from autism.

"It may be too late for Aaron and Niko but Thimerosal has been taken out of all routine vaccines for infants in Canada," Klein said.

The lawsuits claim the drug companies should have known of the neurotoxic effects of the mercury contained in Thimerosal, which had been used as a preservative and anti-biological agent since the 1930s.

"Mercury is one of the most toxic elements on earth," the lawsuits claim. "Mercury poisoning is well documented in medical literature."

Infants are more susceptible than adults to the toxic effects of mercury because mercury interferes with infants' developing neurological systems, the lawsuits say.

The lawsuits allege that the drug companies developed, tested, manufactured, licensed, distributed, marketed, supplied and/or sold the vaccines with the knowledge that they would be injected into infants.

Chamberlain's lawsuit claims her infant son Aaron suffered neurological damage after receiving two doses of the DPT vaccine containing Thimerosal, which is manufactured by Aventis Pasteur Limited.

The DPT vaccine, which was phased out in 1994, was used against diphtheria, whole cell Pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus.

Like Niko, Aaron was born perfectly healthy and demonstrated social, language, cognitive, behavioural and physical skills appropriate for his age, the lawsuit says.

But before his second birthday, after receiving the DPT vaccine, he became unresponsive, withdrawn, slow in speech development, developed repetitive behaviours and an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Aaron was diagnosed with autism at age five. He still has limited language and social skills, the legal action claims.

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