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Autism Case Hearing Still to Produce Clinching Evidence on Vaccine Linkage

ologist Vera Byers, virus immunologist Ronald C. Kennedy and Marcel Kinsbourne, a pediatric neurologist who has testified in vaccine court hundreds of times.

The Cedillo family's argument for how vaccines hurt their child was presented most efficiently by Kennedy, a virus immunologist at Texas Tech University. He posited that the 112.5 millionths of a gram of thimerosal contained in six vaccines administered to Michelle during her first seven months of life had damaged her immune system. When she received an MMR vaccine at 16 months, shortly before Christmas 1995, the weakened vaccine virus lodged in her gut, causing an inflamed bowel and eventually damaging her brain.

Michelle is very ill. In addition to her autism she suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, a seizure disorder and chronic eye inflammations that have left her 90 percent blind. She was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair because arthritis has left her unsteady on her feet, her mother testified. But the theory that vaccines caused all this pain and suffering is shaping up as a very hard sell.

According to testimony in the trial, Michelle was a healthy baby prior to receiving the MMR vaccine. If the thimerosal she received had damaged her immune system prior to that, there were no manifestations of it. Michelle's parents first brought the case, in 1998, with a theory of damage from MMR. Thimerosal was tacked onto the claim, one of her attorneys said, after news accounts in 1999 of the Centers for Disease Control's request that the drug industry stop selling vaccines containing the preservative.

Perhaps one in 500,000 children who receives the MMR vaccination suffers a severe brain inflammation that can lead to lifelong mental disability -- presumably including autism. The vaccine court has awarded several dozen such children over the past two decades. Michelle's parents might have brought their claim under this theory; according to her moth
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