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March 6th, 2008
12:01 PM ET

Vaccines and autism

Some new news to share about autism today. At a news conference this morning, a Georgia family will describe how the government has conceded that a vaccine "contributed" to their daughter's autism symptoms. The family will receive compensation from a federal vaccine court.

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Hannah Poling

That doesn't mean the federal government agrees that vaccines cause autism (click here for more on autism). Nor does this 9-year-old girl's case mean the 4,900 other families in the vaccine court have won their claim that vaccines resulted in their children's autism. That case continues.

Advocates who see a vaccine-autism link point to Hannah Poling's case as a big victory for their cause – evidence of the potentially disastrous side effects of vaccines.

Within 48 hours after receiving her vaccinations, Hannah, then 19 months old and by all accounts a normal little girl, developed a high fever, inconsolable crying and some signs of regression, including difficulty walking and speaking.

Over the next several months, she had countless visits with doctors finally culminating in the diagnosis of encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder. At the same time, and this is potentially very important, she had genetic testing and was found to have the gene for an underlying mitochondrial disorder (click here for more about mitochondrial disorder).

So, did the vaccines worsen an already existing condition leading to the symptoms of autism? That is what the government seems to have conceded. And, if so, was it caused by the mercury preservative thimerosal, which was present in Hannah's vaccines several years ago, or was it the profound immune response that vaccinations cause in the body?

The Centers for Diseases Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, Institute of Medicine and other prestigious medical organizations maintain there is no link between vaccines and autism.

As many experts have told me, this case is likely to raise more questions than it answers. But, these are good questions and important ones for anyone who cares about this issue. What do you think?

– Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent

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Filed under: Autism • Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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