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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Gov't: Girl’s Autism-Like Symptoms Linked to Vaccines

Federal Officials Say Vaccines Worsened Condition That Led to Autism Spectrum Disorder in Georgia Girl
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Autism Groups: Decision a Victory

Sallie Bernard, co-founder of SafeMinds (Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders), is ecstatic about the decision. "We're finally seeing the truth come out," she tells WebMD. "We've gotten such incredible pushback, yet here is a case showing this connection quite clearly.

"Here is a case that really looked into the science, and behind this child's case of autism, they have found a link between the child's autism and the vaccines that she was given," she says.

Bernard says she hopes the decision will spur re-investigation of the issue. "I think this will push more scientists and hopefully the NIH [National Institutes of Health] to really investigate the role of vaccines, the role of mercury, in autism, because this case is so compelling."

Autism Expert: Case Is "Rare"

A pediatrician who serves on a childhood vaccine advisory committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sees the case differently. "To say mercury causes autism is a giant leap," says Jaime Deville, MD, a pediatrician at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California Los Angeles.

"Epidemiological studies do not support the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines causes autism in the general population,'' he tells WebMD. "However, there might be individual sporadic, or rare cases in which patients have an adverse reaction after a dose of a vaccine that might exacerbate a pre-existing condition."

That was the contention in Hannah's case -- that Hannah developed a disorder of the mitochondria, the cells' "power sources," before developing autism-like symptoms.

In a statement, Chuck Mohan, executive director and CEO of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, says science has not linked vaccines to mitochondrial disorders.

"There are no scientific studies documenting that childhood vaccinations cause or worsen mitochondrial diseases, but there is very little scientific research in this area," the statement reads. "Mitochondrial diseases are as prevalent as childhood leukemia, however the National Institutes of Health devotes only $11 million a year to research into mitochondrial disorders and only about one-third of that is earmarked for primary mitochondrial disease research.  Many scientists believe unmasking the causes of mitochondrial disease may lead to possible cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer."

Deville worries that parents will again shy away from vaccines. "I would expect parents to start calling pediatricians," he tells WebMD. But he adds that Hannah's situation "seems to be an isolated case."

He also points out: "Once mercury was removed [from most childhood vaccines] in 2001, autism cases did not decline."

He doubts that the decision will spur further research into the proposed vaccine-autism link, partly because of a lack of research funding.

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