Friday, February 13, 2009

Fed Court Of Claims Shoots Down Autism Claim.

Yates Hazlehurst celebrated his 9th birthday Wednesday. On Thursday, 12 Feb 2009 the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled against his parents' claim that the vaccinations Yates received within his first year of life caused his gastrointestinal condition and his autism.

It wasn't the birthday present his parents, Rolf and Angela Hazlehurst of Jackson, hoped for. He was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

The judges said the evidence in three autism test cases before the court was not only contrary to the parents' claims, but also that there were years of science that found no risk.

The evidence "is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive," concluded Special Master Denise Vowell, who ruled in the Snyder case, one of the three. "Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding" of autism.

The Hazlehursts' case is one of a trio of test cases that represent thousands of similar claims. Thursday's ruling has major implications - reassuring parents scared about vaccinating their babies.

Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and developer of a rotavirus vaccine, said, "A choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice," pointing to recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Jackson parents' case, Hazlehurst v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was chosen as the second test case in the joint proceeding known as the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, or OAP. The other cases heard were Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Snyder v. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

From Oct. 15-18, 2007, the Hazlehursts testified in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Charlotte, N.C.

More than 5,500 claims have been filed by families seeking compensation through the government's Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and Thursday's rulings dealt with the first three test cases which argued that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine plus other shots triggered autism.

Rolf, a local attorney, is both frustrated and disappointed. "Our attorney, Curtis Webb, who's been handling vaccine claims for 25 years, did an excellent job. We won't let this stop us."

Angela said she'd just pulled into the driveway at their yellow, three-story brick home from a job interview and was feeling very upbeat, "when Rolf said we lost all three cases. I thought he was kidding.

"You have to consider that we've exhausted all our savings, our retirement, our 401(k) paying for Yates' care, so it's very disappointing to us for Yates and his future," she said.

Yates was diagnosed with autism in June 2002, and the Hazlehursts filed their claim in March 2003, when he was 3. The trial began when he was 7.

Angela said they provided early intervention as quickly as he needed it, "but as our resources have dwindled - he really needs an in-home program - more one-on-one." That takes money they don't have.

"Autism is definitely treatable," Rolf added. "Experience shows that the earlier you begin treatment, the better the child will get."

National statistics show that it takes more than $4 million over the life span of an autistic child to raise them and that 80 percent of parents divorce if they have an autistic child, Angela said. They said they couldn't have made it this far without a major support group of parents, relatives, friends and church.

Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center that questions vaccine safety, said more studies are needed.

"I think it is a mistake to conclude that, because these few test cases were denied compensation, it's been decided vaccines don't play any role in regressive autism," said Fisher.

The court still must rule on additional cases that argue a different link - that vaccines that once carried the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal are to blame, if the mercury reached and damaged brain cells. The court has given no timetable for a ruling.

Angela said the other families need "to find comfort that we're going to fight this. This is just round one. The science is developing.

"It's unfortunate that the government won't perform a test between vaccinated and unvaccinated children," she said.

She pointed out that the Amish, who do not vaccinate their children, have seen autism only in children who've been adopted and vaccinated before becoming part of the Amish community.

Rolf said that so far, the only studies that have been done are on single vaccines. No studies have been performed based on children receiving multiple vaccines.

"And our children receive 40 vaccines by age 2," Angela said.

"We're not giving up and we will continue the appeals process," Rolf said. "I was told in the beginning that Special Master Denise Vowell would never rule against the government."

He explained that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was enacted because many lawsuits had been filed for children injured "by the old DPT vaccine. So they came up with a safer version of DPT. And they created the act that I prefer to call the National Vaccine Manufacturers and Administrators Protection Act."

Under this act, there is a three-year statute of limitations, he said, which means only a handful of cases "will survive it. It's a catch-22.

"The statute begins to run when the first symptom is diagnosed, but most won't get a diagnosis until ages 3, 4, 5 or even age 6," He said. "No one gets a diagnosis at the first symptom. Most people have lost before they've even begun the fight."

Keep in mind that the Hazlehursts aren't "anti-vaccine parents," Rolf said. "Yes, we need vaccines. The issue is vaccine safety."

What he wants to tell parents who have children with autism, he said, is "Keep going. Your children depend on you. Take care of yourself. The government is not going to take care of you."

Rolf said he likes to recall the saying of Annie Bell Cole, who helped raise him. "She'd say, 'I may give out, but I won't give up.'

"She's raised five children, and two were special needs. She has inspired me." he said. "We may be 90 years old when this is over, but we won't give up."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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1 comment:

ichbinalj said...

Kristin81 wrote:

I have a son with autism. If the judge had a child with autism he/she would feel differently! I gave my son something over the summer to remove heavy metals from his system and he has improved sooooo much! He is not 100% better, but I am happy with ANY improvement. There is so much "crap" in these shots to extend the shelf life. It saves $.50. I would gladly pay $.50 per shot if it did not have the perseratives! My heart goes out to this family and all familys with children with autism. I know how hard it is. My husband ended up leaving me and I had to do it all alone.