The unsubstantiated belief that vaccines are to blame for increasing rates of autism has diverted too much attention from the quest to find the causes of this complex syndrome. Sadly, a decision by the nation's vaccine court won't make much difference to the very vocal parents who refuse to let this theory die.
The court, which was set up to consider claims of harm caused by vaccines, ruled this month that inoculations did not cause the autism of three children, as their parents alleged. The cases were considered among the strongest of 5,000 autism claims before the panel, which determined that a convincing body of research has found no significant link between the two.
Anti-vaccine parents first targeted thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that was used in vaccines, as the culprit. When thimerosal was removed from vaccines with no effect on autism rates, they focused on the inoculations themselves, especially the one for measles, mumps and rubella. Backed by a mountain of solid research, the court rejected both hypotheses. Yet the anti-vaccine fervor only grows stronger, supported in part by a tiny number of cases in which vaccines are believed to trigger autism among children with certain rare preexisting conditions or genetic predispositions.