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Controversy over vaccination safety and autism

  The government's recent decision to pay compensation to a young girl who apparently suffered brain damage after being inoculated against childhood disease has added to the controversy over whether a previously-used preservative causes autism.

On March 8, the New York Times reported on the settlement involving the child of a Johns Hopkins' resident physician who was diagnosed with autism after being inoculated. It reported that after numerous studies showing no link between vaccinations and autism, skeptical parents of autistic children who alleged a connection have been heartened by a recent government settlement with the family of 9 year-old Hannah Poling. Dr. Gerberding of the Centers for Disease Control claimed that this settlement was unrelated to, and did not support the claims of groups such as Autism United. Ms. Poling was 19 months old and developing normally when she received 5 inoculations against 9 infectious diseases. Two days later, she developed a fever, cried inconsolably and stopped walking. For the next seven months she reportedly moved backwards, developmentally, and in 2001 she was diagnosed with autism. Hannah underwent significant testing which identified a disorder in her mitochondria. There are two separate theories: that the inoculations exacerbated this preexisting disorder or that they caused it. There is no evidence to confirm either theory. but the government compensation authoriities believe the explanation in Hannah's case is the former. Dr. Edwin Trevathan, director of the National Center for Birth Defects told the NYT that children with mitochondrial disorders often develop normally until they suffer an infection; they regress when they cannot develop enough energy at the cellular level to nourish the brain. Many parents of autistic children believe that thimerosal, a vaccination preservative that contained mercury, is a cause of autism. It was removed from vaccines in 2001, but was contained in many of the vaccines that Hannah received in the year 2000. Studies since its removal have shown no impact on the incidence of autism. The FDA, the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics all dismiss the idea that thimerosal contributes to autism. Hannah's father declined to identify Thimerosal as the cause of Hannah's problems, but noted that "vaccinations are not safe for everybody"
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