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Experts Set to Discuss Autism, Vaccines

Jun 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Recently, the parents of nine-year-old Hannah Poling won a government settlement out of a federal fund that compensates those injured by vaccines.  In this case, US officials acknowledged that the immunizations worsened an underlying disorder that led to Hannah’s autism-like symptoms.  The Polings said five simultaneous vaccinations administered in July 2000 led to Hannah's autistic behavior.  Hannah was about 18 months at the time.  Government officials won’t say why they conceded this case, but did say those with pre-existing injuries can obtain compensation under the program if they establish that their underlying condition was "significantly aggravated" by a vaccine.

Hannah has a disorder involving her mitochondria—the energy makers of cells—which can be present at birth from an inherited gene or acquired later in life and impairs cells' ability to use nutrients, often affecting brain functioning that can lead to delays in walking and talking.  According to Hannah’s father, either she was born with the disorder and the vaccines caused a stress that worsened the condition or thimerosal caused the mitochondrial dysfunction.  Since 2002, the preservative thimerosal has been removed from shots recommended for young children, except for some flu shots.

Meanwhile, federal health officials are convening some of the world’s leading experts to discuss this case this week; however, the government has kept quiet about a second case that some feel is even more disturbing than the Poling case and may be more relevant.  This January, a six-year-old Colorado girl received the flu vaccine, FluMist.  The following week, she “became weak with multiple episodes of falling to ground” and “difficulty walking,” according to a case report filed with federal health officials, which also stated that she grew increasingly weak and feverish and “became more limp, appears sleepy, acts as if drunk.”  She was hospitalized and underwent surgery and was finally withdrawn from life support. She died on April.  Hannah was 19 months old and developing normally in 2000 when she received five shots against nine infectious diseases. Two days later, she developed a fever, cried inconsolably, and refused to walk. In the next seven months, she spiraled downward; in 2001, doctors diagnosed autism.  Both girls had mitochondrial disorders.  

The Poling case points to vaccines causing or contributing to an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which, in turn, causes autism.  Mitochondria act as the energy factories of cells and have their own genetic material that is passed directly from mother to child.  Flaws are relatively common and, as flaws multiply, they interfere with mitochondrial function.  Dr. De Vivo said as many as 700,000 people in the United States had flawed mitochondria, and in roughly 30,000 of them the genetic flaws were expansive enough to cause disease.  No one has dismissed the notion that a vaccine could cause a decline in such children.  A discussion about the possible links between mitochondrial disorders, autism, and vaccination is needed, said Dr. Insel of the mental health institute.

This week’s Indianapolis meeting is being sponsored by the mental health institute, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.


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