Court Rules No Link Between MMR Vaccine and Autism

February 19, 2009
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors
ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

After two years of hearings, more than 5000 pages of expert testimonies, and 939 medical articles, a special federal court ruled that there was little, if any, evidence to support the claim that substances in the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (including the use of thimerosal) had led to the autism of three children.

Washington, DC (Feb. 12)-After two years of hearings, more than 5000 pages of expert testimonies, and 939 medical articles, a special federal court ruled that there was little, if any, evidence to support the claim that substances in the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (including the use of thimerosal) had led to autism of three children. Three special masters presiding in the US Court of Federal Claims made the landmark decisions in cases against the US Secretary of Health and Human Services in which the families sought compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

More than 5500 claims have been made regarding a possible link between the MMR vaccine, especially in cases where thimerisol was used, and autism. According to the Office of Special Masters, the autism proceedings involved designating three test cases to be considered for each of three theories of “general causation.” One of these theories was dropped, so that during the hearings, the test cases were investigated against the other two; namely, the theory that MMR vaccines and thimerosal-containing vaccines can combine to cause autism and the theory that thimerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a federal no-fault program enacted in 1986 and mandates that vaccine-injury claims be considered first under VICP. The statute was intended to reduce lawsuits against physicians and manufacturers, while providing those claiming vaccine injuries a reduced burden of proof. Claimants under the VICP need not prove negligence, failure to warn, or other tort causes of action; they must only prove that a covered vaccine caused injury.

The uncertainty regarding the safety of MMR vaccines has led to an increasing number of parents chosing not to have their child vaccinated. Some medical experts claim these decisions were a major factor leading to an increasing occurrence of measles in children, to the point that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2008 measles had reached the highest levels in more than a decade.

Regarding the special court decision, Leonard Rappaport, MD, MS, chief of the Division of Developmental Medince at Children’s Hospital Boston, said, “Hopefully this decision will put an end to this sad chapter in the search for the cause and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.”