Federal court rules vaccine preservative doesn’t cause autism

A federal court in Washington ruled that thimerosal – a mercury-containing preservative that has been used in vaccines – does not cause autism. The ruling by special master George Hastings Jr. came in the branch of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims created to deal with claims that vaccines caused injuries – the so-called vaccine court.

Proponents of vaccination said the ruling simple affirmed the large body of scientific evidence that thimerosal and vaccines don’t cause autism.

Poul Thorsen

Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said at least a half dozen major scientific studies have concluded that thimerosal is not linked to autism.

Anti-vaccine groups decried the ruling.

“The deck is stacked against families,” said Rebecca Estepp, of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety in a post on the website Age of Autism. “Government attorneys defend a government program, using government-funded science, before government judges.  Where’s the justice in that?"
While the ruling can be appealed in federal court it deals a major blow to those who wish to pursue claims. And it came as anti-vaccine groups seized on a controversy involving a Danish researcher, who has been accused of misappropriating $2 million in U.S. grant funds at his university in Denmark, to cast doubt on the science showing no connection between vaccines and autism.

Poul Thorsen, a medical doctor and Ph.D., was an adjunct professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health for several months before resigning March 9. He coauthored two studies published in major American medical journals that found no linkage between the MMR vaccine or thimerosal and autism.

On Jan. 22, Aarhus University said that it had uncovered a "considerable shortfall" in grant money from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a research program that Thorsen had directed. The university referred the matter to police, who are conducting an investigation.

Anti-vaccine groups contend that scientific studies disproving the vaccine link to autism are flawed. The CDC and coauthors of the two studies published in major U.S. medical journals maintain the studies remain valid.

You can read the 2002 study on the MMR vaccine in the New England Journal of Medicine here and the 2003 study on thimerosal in the journal Pediatrics here.