March 6, 2008 -- Federal officials
say a Georgia girl is entitled to compensation from a federal vaccine injury
fund because she developed autism-like symptoms after
receiving childhood vaccines in 2000.
Hannah's father, Jon, tells WebMD he was not surprised by the compensation
"When you are talking about the courtroom versus science, the burden of
proof is different," Poling says. "(But) we showed there was a
plausible mechanism. We showed that an injury occurred shortly after her
vaccination. Her growth curve went flat for months."
The government has not said that childhood vaccines cause
autism; rather, officials conclude that the vaccines given to the girl in
2000 aggravated a pre-existing condition -- a mitochondrial disorder -- that
then manifested as a regressive neurological disease with some symptoms
Those who believe there is a vaccine-autism link call the decision a
victory, but those who see no link worry that parents will once again shy away
from childhood vaccines.
"Nothing of this situation should be generalized to the risk of vaccines
for normal children," CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, said at a news
conference. "None of this is going to change any of our recommendations
stating the importance of vaccination for every child."
(Are you changing your child's vaccine schedule because of autism fears?
Tell us what you're thinking on WebMD's Autism
Support Group message board.)
The Back Story
Autism and autism spectrum disorders begin before the age of 3, according to
the CDC, and include a group of developmental disabilities marked by great
difficulty in social interaction and communication. Difficulties on the
spectrum range from mild to severe.
The disorder is on the rise, with one in 150 children now diagnosed with
autism spectrum disorders, according to the CDC.
Suspicion of a vaccine link with autism has been ongoing at numerous
advocacy groups, who believe that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative
used in some vaccines, is to blame. There is increasing concern and an
increasing awareness of the theoretical potential for neurotoxicity. The
preservative, used in vaccines since the 1930s, has been removed or reduced to
trace amounts in all vaccines recommended for children 6 years of age or
younger, with the exception of inactivated flu
vaccine. A preservative-free version of the inactivated flu
vaccine is available.
Advocacy groups against childhood vaccines take issue with other vaccine
components as well.
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
"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."