Landmark court ruling refutes autism vaccine link

In big health news yesterday, a special federal court declared that vaccines are not to blame for autism.

The court ruled there was little if any evidence to support claims of a vaccine-autism link. One special master who decided the case called the evidence "weak, contradictory and unpersuasive."

While the special court expressed sympathy for the claims of the three families who brought the case, pediatricians welcomed the news.

"Hopefully this decision will put an end to this sad chapter in the search for the cause and treatment of autism spectrum disorders," says Leonard Rappaport MD, MS, chief of the Division of Developmental Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston.

Despite countless studies documenting that vaccines do not cause autism, anecdotal stories and misinformation spread online has lead to a significant decrease in vaccination rates, says Rappaport. And that decrease does not come without a price: Some preventable diseases that can cause death, like measles, are now on the rise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles cases in 2008 were at the highest level in more than a decade.

For pediatricians and health providers that have been struggling to convince parents about the safety of vaccines, this ruling is seen as powerful evidence.

"Providers spend so much time reassuring parents of the safety of vaccines," says Rappaport. "That time would be better spent providing high quality health care."

He also expressed optimism that this news will comfort families of children with autism who may have worried that they caused their child's autism.

And for those families searching for a cause, this ruling might also help move autism spectrum disorder research in a more fruitful direction.

"We're hopeful this decisive and clear court decision will allow researchers in autism spectrum disorders to direct their limited resources to other potential causes," he says.

Keri Stedman

Children's Hospital Boston is home to the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 13 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is a 397-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's also is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about the hospital and its research visit: