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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
WebMD Health News

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 decision.

"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 of autism spectrum disorder.

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 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."

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