Action Potential

50 percent and a feather

“One is 95 percent certainty, and the other is…50 percent and a feather”

According to attorney Kevin Conway (quoted in the Washington Post), that is the difference between the scientific and legal burden of proof that autism is related to childhood vaccines. Conway represents one of more than 4800 families who believe that a vaccine preservative caused autism in their loved ones and are suing for compensation from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund. The first test case is before the U. S. Court of Federal Claims today.

An editorial in the May issue described the lack of scientific data supporting this claim. However, the timing of this hearing is particularly interesting. Just days ago, the media generated a frenzy over Andrew Speaker, the American lawyer with a drug resistant form of tuberculosis who flew on commercial airplanes. Perhaps because vaccines have worked so well in combating diseases like polio, many in the west have been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to diseases that are common in ‘the rest of the world’. The court should certainly weigh the global health impact of a generation of American children who are not vaccinated. Conversely, we must continue to ensure that despite our hysteria over modern health threats, like small pox and avian flu, vaccine companies test and retest their products (and publish their data!) before rushing them out to nervous consumers.

The Post points out the biggest losers in the autism court battle: autistic children. Although my heart goes out to the plaintiffs in this case, one has to wonder what therapies and services could be purchased for the price of the legal blame game.

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