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Autism vaccine ruling sparks a lot of comment

March 12, 2010 |  5:32 pm

Today's decision by a federal court that the preservative thimerosal does not cause autism has sparked a lot of comment in the autism community, most of it negative. Many saw it as a government conspiracy to protect the vaccine industry, a claim that has also been made about the swine flu vaccination program.

Some examples:

The Coalition for Vaccine Safety argued that the special masters "appear to have based their decisions on the government policy to protect the vaccine program rather than to fulfill their role to do justice by vaccine-injured children.... The special masters appear to be following a misguided government policy that if they acknowledge a mercury-autism link, parents will stop vaccinating their children."

Said Laura Bono, the parent of a "vaccine-injured child" whose case was dismissed: "The government has its thumb on the scales of justice.... The law only gives the illusion that parents will have their day in court. The process is dysfunctional and many families will not see justice done."

The ruling may make parents even more distrustful of the vaccine program because the  Department of Health and Human Services was both a defendant in the cases and the main source of crucial information about vaccine safety, said Lyn Redwood of SafeMinds. "There's an inherent conflict of interest."

But Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, disagrees. "The science here is very clear. There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism.... The studies are very clear, and the vast majority of families have come to the same conclusion. There is just a small, vocal minority of parents who just don't want to believe what the data show."

Added Roy Richard Grinker, author of "Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism" and the father of an autistic child: "This decision reaffirms my faith in the experts' ability to understand reality. As a parent, I am tired of all the discussions about autism being controlled by a discourse on vaccines.... The time and money being spent on something of no significance is disheartening to me as a parent."

The reaction to the decision was complicated by a red herring thrown into the mix Friday when it was revealed that a researcher at a Danish university who had been involved in the studies that debunked the autism-vaccines link was suspected of defrauding the government of nearly $2 million in grant money.

Dr. Paul Thorsen was the subject of a probe by Aarhus University, which said it had detected a significant shortfall in funds from a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the studies.  Advocates of a vaccine-autism link immediately seized on the announcement as an indicator that the whole research program was corrupt -- just as global warming denialists have seized on the e-mails released in the so-called Climategate to argue that global warming research is corrupt.

In both cases, of course, the charges are nonsense. Thorsen may be a crook, but there were lots of other scientists involved in the research, and their integrity is not being contested.

"We have no reason to suspect that there are any issues related to the integrity of the science," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which funded the studies.

Finally, we'd like to share with you an e-mail from reader Erin Roberts of Camarillo: "More than 15 years ago, a family friend had a son diagnosed with autism. They had suspected vaccines being the cause. Because of this, I opted to not vaccinate my children until they were older. Now I have two sons, Xavier, 13, and Raven, 10, both diagnosed with autism and neither of them vaccinated until after they received their diagnosis.... I have known for years that vaccines do not cause autism."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

-- Andrew Zajac

-- Trine Tsouderos

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