Expert Q+A: Is There a Link Between Vaccines and Autism?

Q. Didn't the government recently concede that vaccines caused autism?

As you may have heard on the news, the government recently decided to compensate a child whose autism was allegedly triggered by a vaccine. Here's the background behind the headline:The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has been holding special hearings called the Omnibus Autism Proceedings. This "Vaccine Court" is looking at allegations that 4,900 children developed autism from vaccines. The court is first looking at nine cases to form opinions about the evidence.

One child, Hannah Poling, was awarded a monetary settlement. Hannah was born with a rare genetic disorder (mitochondrial disorder, which is a dysfunction in basic cell metabolism). This is the equivalent of being born with an undetected heart defect--a ticking time bomb that could go off at any time. For rare kids like Hannah, any stress could have caused her to develop autism. In fact, having a vaccine-preventable disease like the flu or chickenpox could have far worse health consequences--a disease like that could have killed her. Although she was not diagnosed prior to being vaccinated, experts recommend that even children with known mitochondrial disorders still be vaccinated.

So even though the headlines screamed that (in this case) a vaccine caused autism, the facts of the case show this isn't true. Hannah's underlying disease caused her deterioration and autism. The case was settled and determined that it did not represent a test case for the 4899 other children.

Experts on mitochondrial disorders do not think this disease is the "smoking gun" that triggers autism. That's because many folks have similar dysfunctional cells but never become autistic. And there is no simple test for mitochondrial disorders. Instead, you must do a difficult and painful muscle biopsy and a spinal tap. As a result, testing all kids for mitochondrial disorders is not necessary, ethical or practical. And even if your child is diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder, the recommendation is still to vaccinate.

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