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Poling case intensifies debate; vaccine-autism link worth investigating, says former NIH director

The U.S. vaccine court recently conceded that the brain damage suffered by Hannah Poling, who has a coexisting mitochondrial disorder, stemmed from her exposure to five vaccines. “I would not be too quick to dismiss Hannah as an anomaly,” writes Bernadine Healy, M.D., former director of the National Institutes of Health and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

“Families are not alone in searching for a trigger that might explain why autism and autism spectrum disorders have skyrocketed,” she writes; “now they reportedly afflict about 1 in 150 kids” (US News & World Report 4/10/08).

In a May 12 interview with CBS News, Healy said that public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis that vaccines may be linked to the autism epidemic.

She told CBS that public health officials have intentionally avoided researching whether certain subsets of children are especially susceptible to vaccine side effects, to avoid scaring the public.

“I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.”

CBS said that government officials would not respond to Healy directly, but reiterated that vaccines are safe.

Paul Offit, M.D., co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq, writes that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) “seems to have turned its back on science.” Instead of a preponderance of evidence, it now simply requires that an expert propose a plausible mechanism for vaccine injury. In the wake of the Hannah Poling case, he writes, “the VICP should more rigorously define the criteria by which it determines that a vaccine has caused harm. Otherwise, the message that the program inadvertently sends to the public will further erode confidence in vaccines….” (N Engl J Med 2008;358:2089-2091).

On Mar 6, CDC Director Julie Geberding claimed that Hannah’s case was a virtually one-of-a-kind case with little if any relevance to the other 4,900 autism cases currently pending before vaccine court. Then, on Mar 11, there was the “conference call heard ’round the world,” set up by the CDC’s Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Network. Some researchers said that mitochondrial dysfunction may be much more common that the previously stated 1-in-4,000 estimate (David Kirby, Huffington Post 5/15/08). Some speculate the genetic mutation could affect as many as 1 in 50 Americans.

Another case nearly identical to Hannah’s, involving a boy from New York, has recently been withdrawn as a test case for thimerosal. Only one theory of causation can be heard at a time, and it will be hard to deny the boy compensation on the basis that has just been found appropriate in Hannah’s case.

Hundreds of cases could follow this precedent. Some estimates of mitochondrial dysfunction in autistic children range as high as 20% to 30%, and in regressive autism, up to half the children may show signs of it, writes David Kirby (Spectrum Magazine 4/24/08). According to an abstract presented at the Apr 13 meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, 65% of 37 children with autistic spectrum disorders had oxidative phosphorylation (mitochondrial) defects, writes British attorney Clifford Miller.

During April, designated Autism Awareness Month, one expert denied not only a vaccine-autism link but the existence of an autism epidemic. Dr. Bennett L. Leventhal of the University of Illinois at Chicago said that the incidence of autism—the number of new cases over a certain time period—has remained constant since about 1943. Only prevalence, or number of counted cases, has changed, he claims (Courier News 4/11/08).

Clifford Miller challenges Leventhal to produce evidence backing up his assertion—and to locate all the aging autistic adults that the claim implies must exist.

The British Department of Health has hired a psychiatrist to track down the alleged 500,000 adult autistics in the UK and their alleged 500,000 full-time caregivers. The claims are obviously nonsense, Miller writes. According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, the total number of adults caring for another adult who required full-time care for any reason was 326,000 in 2001.

Healy is the best-known “mainstream” American physician to speak out in opposition to the academicians and officials who either deny the existence of a pandemic or any chance of a link to vaccines. She asks why, over the past decade, the government hasn’t compared the autism/ADD rate of unvaccinated children with that of vaccinated children. And why do some in government treat vaccines as an all-or-nothing proposition? Either everybody gets vaccinated at the same time with the same vaccines, or nobody will get vaccinated and long-gone deadly diseases will re-emerge. “Personalized medicine” is done in virtually all areas of medicine today—except with vaccines, notes Sharyl Attkisson, an investigative correspondent for CBS News.

There are groups of unvaccinated children. In addition to the Amish, there are thousands of children cared for by Homefirst Health Services in metropolitan Chicago. As far as physicians are aware, there are no cases of autism in an unvaccinated child—and only one case of severe asthma, writes Dan Olmsted (UPI 12/7/07).

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain all say they support research into the link between vaccines and autism (David Kirby, Huffington Post 4/22/08).

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