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Court Makes Tough, Probably Correct Decision

Let the record show that on February 12, 2009, the "vaccine court" created to tackle an issue that scares congressional leaders, issued a finding that gives politicians some cover. Sure, there will be some anti-vaccine politicians who use this to play to particular audiences, but others can say the scientific consensus has been reached and the subject is settled.

(I could make an argument that the vaccine debate is like global warming: consensus settles nothing for some people.)

Court says measles vaccine not to blame for autism


A special vaccine court ruled against parents with autistic children Thursday, saying that vaccines are not to blame for their children's neurological disorder.

The judges in the cases said the evidence was overwhelmingly contrary to the parents' claims — and backed years of science that found no risk.

"It was abundantly clear that petitioners' theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive," the court concluded in one of a trio of cases ruled on Thursday.

Science is not always correct, which is why theories are tested and retested. In this case, there is no ruling as to whether or not vaccines can contribute to triggering autism. The ruling simply finds that the vaccines alone are not the primary causative factor in the cases of autism presented to the judicial panel. I know this is complex and settles nothing for many parents and health advocates.

The ruling also does not, and cannot, suggest if current vaccinations schedules should be revised. Honestly, I think we should always try to limit the amount of unnecessary substances in our bodies. I think we are over-medicated in the United States, period. But that was not the issue in this case. The decision only reflects the current scientific consensus that the MMR vaccines are not the primary causative factor in autism. Period.

The ruling, which was anxiously awaited by health authorities, was a blow to families who have filed more than 5,000 claims for compensation through the government's Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The claims are reviewed by special masters serving on the U.S. Court of Claims.

For those opposed to vaccines, the finding will be twisted to meet various conspiracy theories. The government and pharmaceutical industry were in cahoots. The judges blindly trusted the government and university researchers, deferring to men and women in lab coats. Parents with real experiences were not believed, even when they live with the affects of the vaccines. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

To win, the families' attorneys had to show that it was more likely than not that the autism symptoms in the children were directly related to a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella shots and other shots that at the time carried a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal.

But the court concluded that "the weight of scientific research and authority" was "simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention."

I admit it, I believe scientists, too. They can be condescending, over-confident, and even arrogant. But, I think the science is pretty strong so far regarding the MMR vaccine.

Now, let's be perfectly clear: I still believe there are environmental triggers for autism and similar conditions. This is as close to an absolute claim as I can get: it is likely an underlying condition is triggered by external factors and/or substances. There might be multiple triggers. There might be multiple underlying vulnerabilities. It is even possible that vaccines could be a small part of a massive "trigger chain" that lead to the symptoms of autism.

Still, I think vaccines are an important and necessary preventative measure when so many people live together in modern society. The unvaccinated place everyone at risk. It's time we start accepting that risk analysis has to move beyond "individual" to "community" when we think about infectious diseases.

Anecdotes are powerful. We know the individual story is moving, emotionally tugging at us. It does stink that there will always be some risk, even with vaccines that save millions of lives.

Touch court decision, but probably the right one. I know that's of little comfort to many people.


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