The online archive of documents in the "Autism Docket" at the United States Court of Federal Claims shows a list going back five years, though the claims that vaccines cause autism are older than that. This special court in Washington, D.C., set up by a 1986 act of Congress, exists to hear claims that vaccines cause injuries. On Monday, June 11 at 9 a.m., in a 450-seat courtroom, lawyers will begin presenting evidence to support their argument that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, when administered with other vaccines containing the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, cause children to develop autism. (Find information about following the court proceedings at the end of this article.)
As this piece in the June 5 edition of the legal news site Law.com explains, the so-called Omnibus Autism Proceeding is a historic legal case, a test of the 1986 law designed to reward damages to people injured by vaccines while holding drug companies who make the vaccines harmless (the government collects money for a vaccine damages fund). One reason this case is such a big deal is the scale: approximately 4,800 autism cases pending at the vaccine court, far more than any other type of injury.
A scan of some recent documents in the Autism Docket shows how difficult it can be to collect thousands of people's cases into one legal process, as the judges, or special masters as they are called, have been trying to do in this case. On Monday, the lawyers in the court will be arguing just one child's test case (that of Theresa Cedillo, in a case called Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services), and just one theory of vaccine injury (the theory that MMR vaccine+thimerosal in vaccines=autism). Other theories include MMR vaccine by itself causes autism and that thimerosal-laced vaccines cause autism, and the court expects to hear those later, according to this update published May 25 (it's a 9-page PDF file).
And as many readers will know, there have been a number of studies by government and academic researchers which have failed to find a vaccine-autism link. At the same time, strong voices like those of David Kirby, the author of Evidence of Harm, and advocacy groups such as SafeMinds.org, have emerged to cast doubts on those research efforts and the motives of the researchers and organizations involved. (See this press release, "University of Missouri Study on Link Between Autism and Mercury a Discredit to Sound Science," for a recent example. The university's own press release about its research, "Study Finds No Link Between Autism and Thimerosal," is here.)
The dueling press releases are but a symbol of the media battle that's been playing out for some time, and which we should expect to pick up in the coming days as the court session begins.
It's begun already. This piece in The Boston Sunday Globe warns Americans that the autism vaccine case, if it goes the wrong way, threatens the whole vaccine industry; the author argues that negative judgments and big plaintiff awards discourage drug makers from investing in new vaccines -- even though they don't have to pay the vaccine damages themselves. And Arthur Allen, the author of a recent book celebrating the history of vaccines, warns in this piece in Slate.com that because the special vaccine court's legal standards lack the rigor of the scientific community, it's not hard to imagine the autism plaintiffs winning big. (He also takes some proponents of the autism-vaccine link to the verbal woodshed.)
You can listen to the court proceedings for yourself, or read court session transcripts, starting June 11. Go to the court's website and register for access to a live, via-telephone, audio feed. Or access transcripts promised to be posted in a timely manner. Find information on audio feeds, and to register, click here. For other information, see this court website.
Scientists Raise Voices Against Autism Parents' Vaccinophobia