The bad news for parents of autistic children may be good news for many others: Vaccines don't cause autism.
The hopes of thousands of families hoping to win compensation from vaccine producers were dashed this month when a special federal court declared that vaccines aren't to blame for autism. The special masters who decided the case expressed sympathy for the families, but the rulings were blunt: There is little if any evidence to support claims of a vaccine-autism link.
This represented what is likely to be the fairest and least biased hearing parents are likely to have on this issue. The U.S. Court of Claims, known as "the people's court," is not set up like other courts. The families involved didn't have to prove that inoculations definitely caused autism, just that they probably did.
More than 5,500 claims have been filed by families seeking compensation. The recent rulings covered three test cases arguing that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine plus other shots triggered autism. The finding by the court not only stated that evidence did not support the claim but also that physicians involved with the plaintiffs misled families and were guilty "of gross medical misjudgment."
Even that harsh verdict probably will not convince parents of autistic children who firmly believe that vaccines cause the problem. Some, no doubt, will view this ruling as a cover-up of some kind.
But the ruling should offer some relief to the millions of families who routinely have their infant children immunized at the recommendation of family doctors. The ruling gives more credence to the numerous large studies that have sought but not found a connections between vaccines and autism.
Even if a link someday is discovered between vaccines and harmful side effects in some children, vaccines have helped prevent countless harmful outcomes resulting from once common childhood diseases themselves. The possible side effects from vaccines could not compare to the potential harm done by mass outbreaks of measles, mumps, and rubella.
The medical community and the community at large need to explore any valid evidence that vaccines can cause serious medical problems in children. But it is just as important to reassure parents that a potentially lifesaving inoculation has been judged safe by all known standards.
Parents who authorize vaccinations for their children are entitled to sleep well at night without worrying that they have endangered their children unnecessarily.