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By Laurie Udesky on May 10, 2011
For years, government health officials and most other medical authorities have dismissed the idea that autism might be linked to childhood vaccines. And the special court set up by Congress to compensate people hurt by vaccines has denied thousands of claims by parents who have contended that their children developed autism because of their inoculations.
But a new report in a New York law school journal, the Pace Environmental Law Review, could reignite the often-inflammatory debate over the issue. After looking into cases in which claimants won settlements or awards in vaccine court, the authors found 83 instances in which victims demonstrated evidence of autism – even though, perhaps as a legal tactic, their lawsuits emphasized other injuries.
At a midday news conference Wednesday in front of the red-brick U.S. Court of Federal Claims building in Washington, where the vaccine court hears its cases, authors of the report emphasized that their study was only preliminary. With further research on the more than 2,500 claims that have won compensation in vaccine court, they said, more evidence of inoculation-related autism would be certain to turn up.
“We think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Mary Holland, a research scholar at the New York University law school and one of the study’s four co-authors.
Holland, in an interview, said it would be “a big problem” for government, vaccine makers and families if it turned out that a lot of children had autism that stemmed from vaccine injuries. But that fact, she said, doesn’t provide legal justification for turning down the claims.
“That may be part of the back story here,” Holland said. “We don’t know, that’s why we’re calling on Congress to look into this.”
The authors, with research help from Pace University law school students, performed database searches to find vaccine court decisions that acknowledged autism or autism-like symptoms. They also identified sealed settlements in which the victims were children, and performed follow-up research to determine if those cases were associated with autism.