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Vaccines Caused Autism Symptoms in Girl, US Officials Say, But Regulators Still Deny Autism-Vaccine Link

Mar 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Autism in a Georgia girl was brought about by a reaction to vaccines, federal health regulators said.  They have decided that the girl is entitled to a payment from a federal vaccine injury fund, a stunning development considering that US health officials have long maintained that neither vaccines or the thimerosal once used in them have nothing to do with the onset of autism.

Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior, all starting before a child is three years old.  In the 1990s, the definition of autism was expanded to take in a group of milder, related conditions, which are known as autism spectrum disorders.

For years, autism advocates have claimed that vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal contributes to autism.  Thimerosal contains mercury, a chemical known to cause brain damage.  In July 1999, following a review of mercury-containing food and drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics asked vaccine makers to remove thimerosal from vaccines as quickly as possible.  Despite a rising prevalence of autism among US children, the government and vaccine industry have insisted that thimerosal has not played a role in the autism epidemic.

US regulators still maintain that vaccines do not cause autism, but they have conceded that vaccines the Georgia girl received aggravated a mitochondrial disorder the child had, leading to symptoms of autism.  The disorder impairs cells' ability to use nutrients, and often causes problems in brain functioning, as well as delays in walking and talking.  According to an article in the Associated Press, this disorder may be more common in children who develop autism.

According to the Associated Press, a document from the US Department of Health and Human Services said that five vaccines the girl received on one day in 2000 aggravated her mitochondrial condition, predisposing her to metabolic problems that manifested as worsening brain function "with features of autism spectrum disorder." The Associated Press said the document does not address whether it was the thimerosal that was at fault. Despite its own decision, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is in charge of the vaccine injury fund, said: "HRSA has maintained and continues to maintain the position that vaccines do not cause autism."

The Associate Press said that nearly 5,000 families are seeking compensation from the vaccine court for autism or other developmental disabilities they blame on vaccines and thimerosal. The vaccine court was established by Congress to compensate people injured by vaccines and to protect vaccine makers from damages.  

This decision gives many of those autism families renewed hope, and will further ignite the debate over the vaccine-autism link.  According to the Associated Press, a decision is expected this spring on the first test case for a larger group of autism-vaccine claims, which are being heard in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

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