Autism-vaccine link rejected by US courts

The claimed link between autism and vaccination has been dealt a terminal blow by the US courts, writes Michael Fitzpatrick

The decision of the US vaccine court to reject compensation claims on allegations that vaccines caused their children’s autism is a triumph for justice and truth.

The judges expressed their sympathy for the families, but insisted that, given the “weak, contradictory and unpersuasive” evidence put forward linking vaccines with autism, they had no alternative but to reject these claims.

As judge Denise Vowell, ruling in the case of Colten Snyder, put it, “to conclude that Colten’s condition was the result of his MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, an objective observer would have to emulate Lewis Carroll’s White Queen and be able to believe six impossible (or, at least, highly improbable) things before breakfast”.


Parents who attribute their children’s autism to vaccines often claim that they – and the scientists and doctors who support their conviction – have been denied a public hearing. The vaccine courts allowed their voices, and those of their legal representatives and supportive experts, to be heard and interrogated.

In the three test cases, drawn from the 5,500 families seeking compensation, the families claimed that a combination of vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in the first year of life and thereafter the MMR had caused autism and related health problems in their children.

The contrast with the long drawn-out and opaque proceedings underway at the General Medical Council in London – where Andrew Wakefield, the former Royal Free Hospital researcher who first suggested there was a link between MMR and autism, is facing charges of professional misconduct – is striking.

Victims of bad science

The US judgments are sympathetic, judicious and categorical. Denise Vowell concluded that “sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science, conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding”.

The vaccine court cases revealed a gulf between the rival experts. On the one hand, those supporting vaccine-autism links were exposed as having limited expertise and experience. Some were professional witnesses long retired from practice. Their evidence was found to be unreliable and unconvincing.

On the other hand, experts disputing vaccine-autism links were generally highly qualified and experienced, with respected academic positions and numerous relevant publications. The judges found their testimony knowledgeable and persuasive.

Professional misjudgment

The courts expressed concerns about two expert witnesses who were also “treating physicians”: paediatric gastroenterologist Arthur Krigsman and general practitioner Jeffrey Bradstreet. In the case of Michelle Cedillo, judge George Hastings, stated his view that Dr Krigsman was guilty of “gross professional misjudgment”. In the case of Colten Snyder, who underwent several lumbar punctures as well as colonoscopy and gastroscopy and other investigations, Denise Vowell upheld the view of three highly experts that the wide range of treatments (including heavy metal chelation, secretin, immunoglobulin and steroids) implemented by Bradstreet could not be medically justified.

The vaccine court also heard exhaustive testimony from several virologists and immunologists who argued that claims that Wakefield, in collaboration with the Dublin pathologist John O’Leary, had identified persistent measles virus in specimens taken from autistic children, were erroneous.

Now, thanks to the US courts and their excellent witnesses, the truth is finally out and parents can be relieved of the burden of anxiety surrounding MMR.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a GP in London. His book Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion has just been published by Routledge

This article is published in the 26 February edition of Community Care under the headline “Courts reject autism and MMR claims”

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