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Autism Case Hearing Still to Produce Clinching Evidence on Vaccine Linkage

It is a week since the US Court of Federal Claims, began hearing the compensation claims from the families of autistic children who are faulting childhood vaccines containing thimerosal. Commentators suggest that so far the autism activists have not been able to establish a firm link between the vaccines in question and the disease.

The first case being heard is that of Michelle Cedillos. Her parents, Theresa and Michael, charge that the presence of thimersal, a preservative in the vaccines administered to their daughter, weakened her immune system and prevented her body from clearing the measles virus after she was immunized for the disease at age 15 months.

Today, Michelle suffers from a long list of health problems, including severe autism, inflammatory bowel disease, glaucoma and epilepsy. The 12-year-old girls parents demand payment under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system that has a $US2.5 billion ($A2.9 billion) fund built up from a tax on vaccines of 75 cents a dose.

On Monday, an experienced heavy metals toxicologist named H. Vasken Aposhian presented a theory of how thimerosal could have damaged the girl's immune system in a way that set her up for autism. But none of Cedillo's other witnesses had much specialized knowledge in mercury or other metals, and the focus quickly shifted to the theory that the attenuated measles virus had created a persistent infection in her gut, causing a severe inflammation that resulted in brain damage and other injuries.

Aposhian, who has more than 100 publications on heavy metal poisoning to his name, is hard of hearing and was obstreperous at times during his cross-examination on Monday. For example, he insisted that in vitro studies were nearly always reproducible in animals, and that animal studies were nearly always reliable models for human effects. This is not a belief to which most toxicologists would subscribe.

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