31 Aug

Federal court of appeals rejects link between vaccines, autism

August 30th, 2010 9:26 pm MT

By Hank Lacey, Denver Science News Examiner

A federal appeals court, second-highest in rank after the U.S. Supreme Court, has ruled for the second time that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

The Aug. 27 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit came in the case of a child who began to show symptoms of autism and mental retardation after receiving a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine in 1995.

The opinion upholds the findings of a special master appointed to determine whether Michelle Cedillo, who turns 16 years old today, was harmed by the MMR vaccine.

Cedillo did not exhibit any health problems during her first 15 months of life. A pediatrician’s examination in January 1996, about two weeks after the vaccine was administered, revealed that she was suffering from fever, rash, vomiting and coughing. At her 18-month well-child visit, in March 1996, the pediatrician noted that those symptoms were gone.

In April 1997 Cedillo was diagnosed with a developmental delay, and in July 1997 her pediatrician concluded that she suffered from “severe autism” and “profound mental retardation.” During her childhood she has also suffered from arthritis, pancreatitis, and a variety of gastro-intestinal ailments.

In 1998 Cedillo’s parents sought, on her behalf, compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. Her case was included within a group of disputes over whether there is a causal relationship between childhood vaccines and autism.

They argued that thimerosal, a preservative in the vaccine, harmed Michelle’s immune system and that, as a result, the measles virus contained in the vaccine entered Michelle’s brain and caused tissue inflammation and autism.

The special master, who is usually a lawyer appointed by a court to act as a judge in one particular, complex, fact-intensive case, rejected as unreliable testing performed by a British laboratory that supported the Cedillos’ theory of causation.

The federal appeals court found that the special master’s decision was justified under a U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires trial judges to determine whether an expert witness’ theory about causation is testable, has an acceptable error rate, and has been peer reviewed and published.

The appeals panel also held that the special master could instead rely on the testimony of a U.S. government expert witness who argued that the testing done by laboratory engaged by the Cedillos was  “severely flawed, and should not be considered reliable.”

Michelle’s mother, Teresa Cedillo, told Legal Times that the family’s lawyers are considering their options for challenging the appeals court’s decision.

In May the same court upheld the rejection of a claim for Vaccine Act compensation in another case in which a one-year old boy lost the ability to speak within months of receiving the MMR vaccine and was diagnosed with regressive autism about 17 months of its administration.

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