In the long-running controversy over whether the mercury preservative thimerosal, used for years in childhood vaccines, contributed to the autism epidemic, the weight of scientific evidence has continually downplayed any risk. And now, three separate judges hearing three separate cases have each dismissed parents' claims that vaccines damaged their kids' brains as, in the words of one judge, "speculative and unpersuasive."
Many parents have become convinced -- to the chagrin of public health officials -- that vaccinations could do more harm than good.
Thimerosal was removed from routine childhood vaccines by 2001, despite a raft of studies that found it was not linked to autism. That hasn't stopped parents, looking at government warnings about the risk of mercury exposure from eating fish during pregnancy and early childhood, from believing the neurotoxin could play a role. There are now approximately 1 in 150 children with an autism spectrum disorder.
Last year, the same special court, the Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation court, compensated the parents of a Georgia girl for autism that it determined was caused in part by vaccinations. That trial re-ignited the controversy, in part because the settlement was sealed.
The early commentary on the latest cases suggests that the legal argument, if not the entire controversy, is all but dead.
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