"Saying or doing nothing might have provoked more or different suits," says Dr. Joseph Zanga, assistant dean for generalist programs at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in North Carolina. "This was a no-win situation engendered by our society's desire to have the perfect child, perfectly cared for. Most do not realize that we cannot protect children from all the dangers inherent in life, and by trying to do so we protect some while putting others at risk."
Most often, these repercussions have taken the form of legal battles. In his editorial, Offit describes how 4,800 parents of autistic children have taken their message to federal the Vaccination Injury Compensation Program.
And some say there could be more legal battles to come.
"There will be more, and more complex suits as we continue to develop more vaccines promising a life free of disease," Zanga says.
"Consider, for example, the HPV vaccine. If we immunize all preteen girls years before most are sexually active, what happens when they have their sexual debut after the vaccine protection has waned -- as most seem to these days, and the HPV vaccine is said to be protective for five to seven years?"
Others note that continuing to fund research to prove the safety of thimerosal instead of using funds for more productive purposes, such as determining the real cause of autism and how to cure it, is counterproductive.
"I am saddened that many families with autistic children continue to chase false causes when ... we should be placing our energies and resources into researching the real cause(s)," says Dr. Michael Muszynski, dean and professor of Clinical Sciences at the Florida State University College of Medicine.
In the most recent study funded by the CDC, researchers evaluated more than 1,000 kids between the ages of 7 and 10 who were exposed to various levels of thimerosal as babies.
Researchers tested the children extensively, assessing the children in 42 different areas of neurological functioning and making almost 400 different statistical comparisons. They found that for the vast majority of tests, children with high levels of thimerosal exposure performed equally well compared to children with low exposure levels, indicating that thimerosal has no effect on brain development.
"On the whole, the results are very reassuring," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a press conference earlier today.
"The findings add weight to the preponderance of evidence that vaccines are safe and should be provided to infants and children," says Zanga. "The alternative, not immunizing and leaving the child at risk for disease, makes little general sense."
The study did find a small correlation between high thimerosal exposure levels and the presence of tics in boys. A couple of other studies have found similar results -- that tics, abnormal movements that look like twitches, are associated with high thimerosal exposure. The CDC says it will devote further research to the issue.
But Slifka says the weight of the evidence backs the safety of vaccines.
"This is yet more concrete proof that children's vaccines are safe," he says. "It is similar to multiple studies performed by highly reputable independent laboratories in several nations; there is no link between vaccines and autism."