The autism/vaccine “debate” is winding its way through a variety of courts. Lawsuits pend and will pend for years to come, but another has ended in a victory for science: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that Michelle Cedillo’s autism was not caused by the mercury-based preservative in the MMR vaccine she received in 1995. The Cedillo case was one of a series of test cases chosen to try to determine whether alleged autism injuries could file claims under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
What does that mean for the remaining vaccine lawsuits and claims? It may be the beginning of an end. One the one hand, there are some five thousand other cases pending before the U.S. Court of Federal claims, and this was one of three test cases taken on to essentially determine if court would need to consider all 5,000+ and how. All of the claims have been rejected so far, and this is the second of the three to be upheld on appeal, although further appeal may be available. Three other test cases, handled last year, also resulted in upheld rejections of the claim that the vaccine caused autism. These families can still sue the vaccine manufacturers directly, but this avenue of financial redress is beginning to look pretty closed off.
But will it have any effect on the complacent parents who, with a “better safe than sorry” excuse, put kids who genuinely can’t be vaccinated at risk by refusing to vaccinate their own? Nah. It’s going to take more than some silly court ruling to do that.
Many people have written eloquently about the dangers having a growing herd of unvaccinated kids create for all children, and the fact that parents who choose not to vaccinate are free-riding on the rest of us. Babble has done a great piece on how those parents justify their actions. The L.A. Times ran an article by a physician who’s seen first-hand the effects of not vaccinating, from work in the slums of Mumbai with families who had no access to vaccines, to watching the child of wealthy Hollywood anti-vaccine types admitted to the hospital with whooping cough. Those effects are escalating: California is in the midst of its largest whooping cough outbreak in decades, one of many across the country. Of course, in many cases, it’s not the unvaccinated kids who are dying as a result, but the infants who are exposed by contact with them. Keeping immunization rates high protects those infants, and any kids who actually can’t be vaccinated, or whose vaccine wasn’t 100% effective.
But then, you knew that. Most people do. It’s just that a startling number think it doesn’t apply to them. A distant risk to someone else’s child just doesn’t seem worth subjecting your own kid to that still faintly mysterious prick—plus, of course, shots hurt, and they make kids cry, and it’s so much easier and more pleasant to get through the doctor’s visit without them.