WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A special U.S. court ruled against three families on Thursday who claimed vaccines caused their children's autism.
The Vaccine Court Omnibus Autism Proceeding ruled against the parents of Michelle Cedillo, Colten Snyder and William Yates Hazlehurst, who had claimed that a measles, mumps and rubella vaccines had combined with other vaccine ingredients to damage the three children.
"I conclude that the petitioners have not demonstrated that they are entitled to an award on Michelle's behalf," Special Master George Hastings, a former tax claims expert at the Department of Justice, wrote in the Cedillo ruling.
The families sought payment under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system that has a $2.5 billion fund built up from a 75-cent-per-dose tax on vaccines.
No judges but instead three "special masters" heard the three test cases representing thousand of other petitioners.
They asked whether a combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, plus a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal, caused the children's symptoms.
"The evidence does not support the general proposition that thimerosal-containing vaccines can damage infants' immune systems," Hastings wrote, after reviewing tens of thousands of documents and hours of oral arguments.
Michelle's parents argued that she was a normal baby until she received the vaccine.
Experts say parents often link vaccines with their children's symptoms because they are vaccinated at an age when autism and related disorders are often first diagnosed.
Two Institute of Medicine reports, in 2001 and 2004, reviewed the evidence and determined there was no link between vaccines and autism. Many other studies have also shown no link, but a small and vocal group of parents continue to press the cases.
"Considering all of the evidence, I found that the petitioners have failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to causing immune dysfunction, or that the MMR vaccine can contribute to causing either autism or gastrointestinal dysfunction," the ruling from Hastings said.
"I further conclude that while Michelle Cedillo has tragically suffered from autism and other severe conditions, the petitioners have also failed to demonstrate that her vaccinations played any role at all in causing those problems."
Hastings also rejected an argument that some children may be genetically "hypersusceptible" to mercury.
More than 5,300 cases had been filed by parents who believed vaccines may have caused autism in their children and were seeking payment under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Under the program, someone injured by a vaccine does not have to prove the vaccine actually caused his or her injuries.
All they need to do is establish that vaccines sometimes cause that particular condition or injury, as the three test cases sought to prove. The no-fault payout system is meant to protect vaccine makers from costly lawsuits that drove many out of the vaccine-making business.
Editing by Alan Elsner