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Recent Vaccine-Autism Award Not the First

According to two people with intimate knowledge of the vaccine court, the compensation that will be paid to Hannah Poling is not the first paid by the court to a child with symptoms of autism. On Thursday I noted that the award, which has gotten huge media play, was quite unusual and does not mean that the government is acknowledging that vaccines cause most cases of autism–or even this one, which isn’t exactly autism. Dr. Edwin Trevathan, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, told reporters that infections are usually what trigger mitochondrial disorders, a condition involving the failure of the energy-generating part of cells. Stress can trigger a failure in various parts of the brain in these kids, including areas involved in autism-like symptoms. Trevathan said he’d never heard of a vaccine triggering mito disease symptoms, but he didn’t rule it out. Hannah got very sick a day or two after receiving five shots in a “catch-up” immunization visit with her pediatrician.

I have since learned that the 934 families paid out more than $800 million since 1990 by the vaccine court included several with injuries that resulted in “autism-like symptoms.” At least a few of these cases involved tuberous sclerosis complex, a rare genetic condition in which tumors pop up in the brain and other organs, sometimes causing severe mental disability. Like mitochondrial disease, tuberous sclerosis can occur in the form of a regression in a normal-seeming child–and has been known to follow a shot. A senior court official tells me that a handful of TSC kids awarded by the court were, for all intents and purposes, autistic–though no one called it autism.

“We just were not in tune to autism issues in those days,” the official said. Indeed, much of the “epidemic” in autism today has resulted from shifting diagnostic criteria, better awareness among doctors and educators, and the availability of funds to pay for therapy and special ed for autism-spectrum kids.

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