Science and public health won an important court victory this February when the U.S. vaccine court rejected the link between autism and certain vaccines.
In three separate, sometimes strongly worded rulings, judges for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled against those who claimed the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, thimerosal, or the combination of the two had caused autism in their children. The judge in one of the cases affirmed what the research has been telling us for years: “The numerous medical studies concerning these issues, performed by medical scientists worldwide, have come down strongly against the petitioners’ contentions.”
As a mother as well as a pediatrician, with family members who are on the autism spectrum, I understand the heartbreak that parents of autistic children face. More research is needed to determine why the number of cases has grown and what the true causes of autism are. Although many studies have been carried out, none has shown that vaccines cause autism. More funding for vaccine safety research and monitoring also is important, particularly as new vaccines are introduced.
The evidence has shown us how effectively vaccines have banished or reduced once-common diseases and the suffering and death they cause. Furthermore, recent outbreaks amply demonstrate that these diseases are still a threat, and that anti-vaccine misinformation is doing real harm. Vaccine refusals are partly responsible for the recent San Diego, CA measles outbreak and cases of measles in many other states, including New York and Illinoiis, and the cases of Haemophilus influenzae type b in Minnesota, for example. The unfortunate children struck by these preventable diseases may serve as a warning to parents who believe it is safer not to immunize.
Despite the overwhelming evidence against a connection between thimerosal and autism (summed up nicely in a recent article in Clinical Infectious Diseases), advocates periodically convince lawmakers to introduce legislation banning its use. IDSA believes strongly that science must guide public health policy and responds to these threats accordingly. Most recently, the Society wrote to the Indiana state legislature explaining the facts about thimerosal and the consequences of mandating thimerosal-free vaccines. Efforts in other state legislatures are on our radar.
IDSA also frequently speaks out when media reports raise undue fears about vaccines. For example, CBS News recently aired a story alleging that the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is associated with unusually high levels of adverse reactions. The Society wrote to CBS News highlighting flaws in the report, which relied on an analysis put out by an anti-vaccine advocacy group.
In addition, IDSA seeks to provide health professionals, parents, and the media with up-to-date and scientifically accurate information about vaccines and the diseases they prevent through the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii), of which IDSA is a founding affiliate. A newly updated article on thimerosal and autism can be found on the NNii website, www.immunizationinfo.org. The website also contains information on other vaccine controversies such as mitochondrial disorders and downloadable slideshows to help health professionals communicate about vaccine safety.
The vaccine court’s resounding rejection of the MMR/thimerosal hypotheses injects a welcome dose of science into the vaccines-autism controversy. It is my hope that, primed with accurate information and boosted by the sad reality that vaccine-preventable diseases are still with us, more parents will acquire immunity to the influence of an unscientific few. Vaccination’s achievements are too important to be undone by a chorus of misguided voices.
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