A meritless suit claiming vaccines cause autism could drive vaccine makers out of the business, warns Paul A. Offit, an infectious diseases specialist, in a Boston Globe column. Without vaccines, children once again will suffer blindness, retardation and death.
On June 11, in an unprecedented action before a federal claims court, lawyers for 4,800 autistic children will argue that vaccines caused autism. If successful, these claims could exhaust the pool of money currently set aside to compensate children who have been hurt by vaccines. Further, lawyers will likely take their claims that vaccines cause autism to civil court, where awards could be enormous.
In the ’70s, after a British researcher linked the pertussis vaccine to brain damage, the rate of vaccination plunged in Britain, Offit writes. In a few years, 300,000 unvaccinated children were hospitalized with pertussis; 70 died. In the U.S., lawsuits drove all but one manufacturer out of the vaccine business. Yet, large-scale studies showed “the risk of permanent brain damage was the same in children who had not received the vaccine as in those who had.”
Similarly, the evidence shows no link between vaccines and autism.
Fourteen epidemiological studies have shown that the risk of autism is the same whether children received the MMR vaccine or not, and five have shown that thimerosal-containing vaccines also do not cause autism. Further, although large quantities of mercury are clearly toxic to the brain, autism isn’t a consequence of mercury poisoning; large, single-source mercury exposures in Minamata Bay and Iraq have caused seizures, mental retardation, and speech delay, but not autism.
Finally, vaccine makers removed thimerosal from vaccines routinely given to young infants about six years ago; if thimerosal were a cause, the incidence of autism should have declined. Instead, the numbers have continued to increase.
The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Before the vaccine was developed, measles killed 3,000 children a year in the U.S. and rubella “caused 20,000 babies to be born blind, deaf, or mentally retarded.” Mumps is rarely a killer but can cause brain inflammation, deafness and sterility in men.