Vaccines and Autism – More Mess

There has been a lot reported in the news about the recent payment from the Federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for Hannah Poling, a girl who developed autism after being vaccinated. (See New York Times article and a Wall Street Journal blog report about this case.)

Amidst all the debate and news reporting there have been several connected and interesting facts:

  • The Federal program that is making the payment to the Poling family doesn’t concede that the payment is in any way an admission of a link between vaccines and autism.
  • Since most vaccines no longer contain the mercury containing preservative thimerosal, and yet the rate of new cases of autism hasn’t declined, it would seem that whatever arguments there were for a link between thimerosal and autism should have been settled.
  • Hannah Poling’s father is a neurologist in training, and reported that his daughter was eventually diagnosed with a disorder of the mitochondria – the power producing parts of the cellular factory. (It is theorized that this defect inhibits the ability of cells to respond to stress, and that a fever – including those that can be caused by a vaccination – could lead to the neurodegenerative problems seen in autism….. at least in some cases.)
  • In a Wall Street Journal on-line report a few days before the Poling’s settlement was disclosed, Senator John McCain is quoted as saying while campaigning in Texas that “there’s strong evidence that indicates that [autism’s rising rate in children has] got to do with a preservative in vaccines.” (Hopefully Senator McCain’s political reasons for making this statement do not reflect his substantive position or understanding of the issue.)

Thus, it seems that the cause of rising autism rates are still not understood, but the public is still looking for a scapegoat to blame. It would not surprise me to see a report out soon linking autism to the recent AP report about minute traces of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. But in this case, who would patient’s families drag into court? The municipal water companies? The people who flushed the pharmaceuticals that ended up in the aquifer? The biopharma companies that didn’t make their medicines completely biodegradable?

Do you have any other perspectives or thoughts on the evolving autism situation?

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