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Commentary

The Secret Truth: Parents Used to Accept Routine Vaccinations For Their Children Without a Second Thought.
Darshak Sanghavi, The Boston Globe, 4-5-05

Sanghavi has written a moving account of why parents of autistic children, frustrated and overwhelmed by this mysterious disease, have blamed childhood vaccines containing thimerosal, a preservative, for their childrenísí illness.

While no credible study has ever linked thimerosal to autism, this hasnít stopped parents or trial lawyers from suing vaccine manufacturers and asserting conspiracy theories to suppress evidence about the disease.

Perhaps because of the near-universal administration of vaccines, there have been numerous, ultimately unsubstantiated, claims linking vaccines with various diseases, including the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine with epilepsy and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the hepatitis B vaccine with SIDS and multiple sclerosis, the Lyme vaccine with arthritis, the Haemophilus influenza vaccine with diabetes, and many others.

Of course, there are some proven vaccine-related injuries, mostly acute allergic reactions. In 1986, before the thimerosal-autism debate began, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was created to protect vaccine makers, and thus the nation's vaccine supply, from costly litigation by people who were adversely affected by vaccinations. Since its inception, the program has paid more than $1.5 billion on about 1,900 claims.
Fundamentally, the proposed connection between autism and thimerosal arises from the frustrating lack of known causes for autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders. The theory joins others blaming various exposures for baffling diseases; consider discarded notions correlating cellphones with brain tumors, silicone breast implants with autoimmune disorders, and water fluoridation with bone cancer.

Anger is an understandable - even natural - reaction to tragedy, man-made or otherwise. But like other junk science theories that have metastasized in recent years from the margins to the mainstream, tort litigation sustains rogue theories long after they should have been discredited by science.

In the long run, we all lose when pharmaceutical companies and vaccine manufacturers spend millions defending themselves from spurious legal claims that couldíve been spent looking for treatments and cures for diseases like autism. Expanding the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, or using special health courts to adjudicate medical injuries are just two solutions that could help us grapple with junk science in the courts.



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