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End of the Road for Claims Linking Vaccine to Autism

(CN) - The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a decision that held Wyeth could be liable for a child who was diagnosed with autism after being vaccinated.

Noting last week's decision in the case Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, which found that design defect claims were barred by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986, the justices summarily took up the drugmaker's appeal and sided with them.

On remand, the Georgia Supreme Court must further consider the case in light of Bruesewitz, according to the order.

Marcelo and Carolyn Ferrari had sued American Home Products - dba Wyeth, SmithKline Beecham dba GlaxoSmithKline and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals - over a booster shot containing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. They claimed the medication had caused their son, Stefano, to develop autism.

A Georgia trial court had dismissed the complaint as barred under NCVIA, but the state appeals court overturned that decision and the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in 2008.

In its petition for review, Wyeth noted that drugmakers have immunity from claims over childhood vaccines since the need to stamp out disease is great. The company also firmly disputed the speculation that vaccines cause autism.

"While allegations of this sort have swept through the media and the internet, every reputable scientific body and governmental agency that has studied the question - including the FDA and CDC - has rejected any linkage between vaccines and autism," the petition states.

Last week the nation's high court ruled in a similar case involving a child who developed a seizure disorder after being vaccinated at 6 months old.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the act plainly protects drugmakers from lawsuits and "expressly eliminates liability for a vaccine's unavoidable, adverse side effects."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had dissented from the majority's Bruesewitz opinion.

The dissenting justices felt that the majority's interpretation "imposes its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress."

"Its decision leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing or distributing their products," Sotomayor wrote.

There was no dissent or formal opinion issued with the Ferraris' case. The order notes that Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the court's consideration or decision of the matter. The same disclosure was made in Bruesewitz.

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