By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009; A01
A special federal court ruled yesterday that vaccines do not cause autism and that thousands of families with autistic children are not entitled to compensation, delivering a major blow to an international movement that has tried for years to link childhood immunizations with the devastating disorder. (The Globe ran the Post story.)
Boston lawyer Kevin Conway, who specializes in cases involving people who become ill from vaccines, represented the families. His firm, then known as Schlichtmann, Conway & Crowley, was the subject of Jonathan Harr’s fine book, A Civil Action. Harr covered the case of eight Woburn families who claimed water pollution from local factories led to the town’s high leukemia rate. (Actor Tony Shalhoub played Conway in the movie.)
While not on the special court panel, Marie McCormick of the Harvard School of Public Health, chaired the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee that concluded in 2004 that “…the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.“
The IOM is part of the National Academy of Sciences, which was created by the federal government to “review scientific and technological matters.” Most IOM studies are done at the request of various federal government agencies. Their findings can be extremely influential.
For another opinion, see the National Autism Association’s statement on the ruling.