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Autism not caused by thimerosal

Infant receiving an intramuscular immunization in his right thigh
Infant receiving an intramuscular immunization in his right thigh
Photo: CDC/James Gathany, 2006

On Friday, March 13, 2009, the United States Court of Federal Claims (USCFC) handed down a ruling that thimerosal does not cause autism.  The ruling, which is supported by widespread scientific consensus, is no doubt very disappointing to many parents with autistic children.  Thousands of parents had filed claims with the “vaccines court,” a branch of the USCFC, seeking damages in the belief that vaccines containing thimerosal had caused their children’s autism.

At the heart of the controversy is thimerosal, an organometallic compound that contains approximately 49% mercury (by weight).  It has been used as a preservative in a wide variety of products including vaccines, tattoo inks, ophthalmic (eye) solutions, nasal products and antigens for skin tests. Because its use as a preservative has raised controversy, largely because of parental fears, thimerosal was removed from almost all childhood vaccines by 2001.  The exception is for multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine.

Autism is a puzzling illness that affects as many as 1 in 110 children in the United States.  It can range from mild Asperser’s Syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability.  Currently, there is no cure or treatment for autism.  Parents of autistic children as well as many advocacy groups have reacted to the court’s ruling with some surprise.  Several express a feeling that the ruling is a conspiracy to protect the public health by protecting the vaccination programs.  Mary Holland of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety says the court special masters are protecting the vaccine program at the expense of children being harmed by inoculations.

The USCFC is made up of three judges called special masters.  Each chose one case to rule on.  They were considered tests cases and were among the very strongest.  Consequently, similar cases making the same claim are thought to have a poor outlook.  Earlier rulings have been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and it seems likely that these rulings will be appealed as well.  However, based on the evidence and the widespread scientific consensus, experts believe the USCFC ruling will be upheld.

For additional information:

Autism Speaks

United States Court of Federal Claims


The Los Angeles Times   


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