The family of a 9-year old girl who developed autism after a series of vaccinations have won their case and will receive compensation from a government vaccine fund.
It was revealed last week that the US government had agreed back in November to pay compensation to 9-year old Hannah Poling who they conceded developed 'symptoms of autism' after receiving a series of childhood vaccinations.
Hannah reportedly developed a fever after receiving scheduled vaccinations for haemophilus influenzae, chickenpox, polio, MMR, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio, in 2000 when she was 18 months old. Investigations revealed encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and autism-like symptoms such as poor communication skills soon followed. She was diagnosed with autism in 2001.
Hannah's family will receive an as yet unconfirmed sum in compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program; a fund which has been built up from a 75% tax on each dose of vaccine and now stands at $2.5 billion. The government says the program was set up to make sure pharmaceutical companies would not be afraid to make vaccines for fear of being sued while also providing an easier way for injured children to seek compensation. The Polings' settlement may reach beyond $1 million according to reports.
The Polings are just one of around 5000 families seeking compensation because they believe vaccinations resulted in their children developing autism. Most of the families blame the mercury containing preservative thimerosal which was a common ingredient in vaccines until just a few years ago.
The media and autism bloggers have gone into a frenzy since details of the case were released. Many see the case as admission by the US government that vaccinations cause autism. The government and health officials have quickly moved to deny this is the case however. It turns out that Hannah had an undiagnosed mitochondrial disorder which put her more at risk of developing a developmental disorder. Mitochondria are present in most cells in the body and are where energy is produced by 'burning' glucose and oxygen. Any disruption in energy production puts children at risk for such disorders as the brain requires huge amounts of energy.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services studied Hannah's medical history and concluded that the vaccines she received had "significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in energy metabolism", causing brain damage with "features of autism spectrum disorder".
Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said "Let me be very clear that (the) government has made absolutely no statement about indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism."
Statements such as this are unlikely to disuade those who believe that vaccines are a direct cause of autism however.
The genetic mutation which caused Hannah's mitochondrial dysfunction is said to affect just 0.2% of the general population but the Sunday Sun newspaper in Newcastle, England reports that up to 38% of autistic children have been found to have the mutation.
Indeed the idea that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a major role in autism is not new. Entering 'autism mitochondria' into an academic search engine such as Google Scholar reveals numerous studies that have found mitochondrial dysfunction in autistic children. It turns out that a number of genes identified as markers for autism play a role in controlling mitochondrial function. In addition, other markers of mitochondrial function such as a build up of lactic acid, are also commonly found in those with autism.
The question now is whether the mitochondrial dysfunction is a cause of autism in a majority of cases or whether it is the result of it. Only new research can answer this question. Meanwhile the debate over autism and vaccines is likely to intensify once again as other families seek compensation. Journalist David Kirby who originally broke the story in the Huffington Post says that a number of other children whose cases are pending have been shown to have similar mitochondrial disorders to Hannah.