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Vaccine-autism federal test case.

In June 2007, a US Court of Federal Claims tribunal began hearing the first of nine test cases that will examine whether certain vaccines and/or thimerosal can cause autism. The results of these test cases will determine whether autism will be added to the list of vaccine injuries, recognized by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). VICP, which is financed by a 75-cent surcharge on each vaccine, was established to protect vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits and thereby make sure that vaccine production continues. The program dispenses money for medical expenses, lost future income, and up to $250,000 for pain and suffering. Claimants are required to appeal to VICP before engaging in a lawsuit against the manufacturer. Unlike a product liability lawsuit, VICP claimants need only show a causal relationship. "If medical records show," Stephen D. Sugarman, JD, explains in a New England Journal of Medicine Perspective article, "that a child had one of several listed adverse effects within a short period after vaccination, the VICP presumes that it was caused by the vaccine (although the government can seek to prove otherwise)." Autism, however, is not on the list of covered adverse effects. About 300 autism-related claims have been rejected, and another 4800 autism claims are pending. Expert witness testimony from the nine test cases and their outcomes should provide guidance for settling other autism claims.

The first test case, Cedillo vs. Secretary of Health and Human Services, involves 12-year-old Michelle Cedillo, who developed symptoms seven days after receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. In addition to autistic symptoms, Michelle has inflammatory bowel disease, glaucoma, and epilepsy. She is confined to a wheelchair and uses a feeding tube. A ruling is expected in 2008.

People who do not receive compensation from VICP are permitted to file a regular lawsuit. Few do. They would have to convince a jury that the vaccine in question has a defective design or that it lacks necessary warnings about its use. Families of autistic children, however, have the power of large support groups, organized lawyers, and even federal senators and congressmen behind them. While a VICP ruling to include autism on its list of vaccine injury will not directly affect vaccine manufacturers, it could further erode public trust in vaccinations.

Bridges A. Children with autism get day in court. USA Today. June 11, 2007. Available at: www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-06-11-3419893127_x.htm. Accessed January 18, 2008.

Mauro T. Test case linking vaccines and autism reaches federal court. Legal Times. June 5, 2007. Available at: www.law.com/jsp/law/LawArticleFriendly.jsp?id=1180947929140. Accessed January 3, 2008.

Sugarman SD. Cases in vaccine court--legal battles over vaccines and autism. N Engl J Med, September 27, 2007: 357(13): 1275-1277. Available at: www.NEJM.org. Accessed January 3, 2007.

briefed by Jule Klotter
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Title Annotation:Shorts
Author:Klotter, Jule
Publication:Townsend Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:471
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