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National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)

Omnibus Autism Proceeding

What is the Proceeding

Beginning in 2001, parents began filing petitions for compensation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP or Program), alleging that certain childhood vaccinations might be causing or contributing to a neurodevelopmental disorder known as “autism spectrum disorder,” or “autism” for short.

Specifically, it has been alleged that cases of autism, or neurodevelopmental disorders similar to autism, may be caused by

  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccinations;
  • by the “thimerosal” ingredient previously contained in certain other vaccines; or
  • by some combination of these two alleged effects.

The Office of Special Masters (OSM) held a series of meetings in mid-2002 with an informal advisory committee to address the task of dealing with these claims.

The OSM issued Autism General Order #1 in July 2002, in which it established the procedure for addressing the Omnibus Autism Proceeding (OAP). Petitioners' attorneys then initiated an extensive discovery process, a phase which is now concluded.

What Has Happened So Far

To date, the Secretary has produced over 218,000 pages of discovery, and has offered several officials for depositions.

As of May 2, 2008,

  • over 5,300 cases alleging a causal relationship between such vaccinations and autism disorders have been filed in the Program;
  • 5,007 cases await adjudication. Some petitioners have withdrawn, as is their statutory right, and may be pursuing claims against vaccine manufacturers in civil court, and some have been dismissed because they were filed after the statute of limitations had expired.

2007 Test Cases: MMR and Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines

The first evidentiary hearing for a test case was held June 11-26, 2007. The Petitioners' Steering Committee (PSC) and the Secretary presented expert testimony concerning the “general causation issue” for the combined theory (both MMR vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines caused autism), and also the specific causation issue in the first of three test cases for the combined theory.

Hearings in the other two test cases for the combined theory were held in October and November of 2007. The special master's decisions in the first theory and three test cases are not expected before the summer of 2008.

2008 Test Cases: Thimerosol-Containing Vaccines

On May 12, 2008, the Court will hold a 3-week hearing on the general causation issues for the thimerosal theory. Evidence in two test cases for the second theory will also be presented.

As was true in 2007 for the first theory's general causation hearing and test cases, the public can listen to the hearing by registering on the Court's web site (see below). Final decisions on the general causation theory and test cases are not expected until sometime in 2009.

Further proceedings on the third theory of causation (i.e., MMR vaccine alone) await rulings by the court.

This information reflects the current thinking of the United States Department of Health and Human Services on the topics addressed. This information is not legal advice and does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind the Department or the public. The ultimate decision about the scope of the statutes authorizing the VICP is within the authority of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which is responsible for resolving claims for compensation under the VICP.

last updated: June 26, 2008


Related Links

Statement by the Health Resources and Services Administration on Autism and the Vaccine Injury Program (March 3, 2008)

CDC Responds to Questions About Vaccines (March 28, 2008)

Omnibus Autism Proceeding (U.S. Court of Federal Claims)

Vaccines & Autism (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Thimerosol & Vaccines (Food & Drug Administration)

Autism Information (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services