Infectious disease researcher Paul Offit decries in a New York Times op/ed the recent award of compensation to the family of Hannah Poling by the Federal Court of Claims under the the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Terry and Jon Poling asserted that Hannah became autistic after receiving nine childhood immunizations. Naturally, anti-vaccination autism campaigners hailed this decision. Offit points out:
In 2000, when Hannah was 19 months old, she received five shots against nine infectious diseases. Over the next several months, she developed symptoms of autism. Subsequent tests showed that Hannah has a mitochondrial disorder — her cells are unable to adequately process nutrients — and this contributed to her autism. An expert who testified in court on the Polings' behalf claimed that the five vaccines had stressed Hannah's already weakened cells, worsening her disorder. Without holding a hearing on the matter, the court conceded that the claim was biologically plausible.
On its face, the expert's opinion makes no sense. Even five vaccines at once would not place an unusually high burden on a child's immune system. The Institute of Medicine has found that multiple vaccines do not overwhelm or weaken the immune system. And although natural infections can worsen symptoms of chronic neurological illnesses in children, vaccines are not known to.
"There is no evidence that children with mitochondrial enzyme deficiencies are worsened by vaccines," Salvatore DiMauro, a professor of neurology at Columbia who is the nation's leading expert on the disorder, told me. Indeed, children like Hannah Poling who are especially susceptible to infections are most likely to benefit from vaccines…
The vaccine court should return to the preponderance-of-evidence standard. But much damage has already been done by the Poling decision. Parents may now worry about vaccinating their children, more autism research money may be steered toward vaccines and away from more promising leads and, if similar awards are made in state courts, pharmaceutical companies may abandon vaccines for American children. In the name of trying to help children with autism, the Poling decision has only hurt them.
A 2007 study found that childhood vaccinations have reduced hospitalization rates by 90 percent or more over the last century. As the New York Times reported:
Death rates for 13 diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccinations are at all-time lows in the United States, according to a study released yesterday.
The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first time that the agency has searched historical records going back to 1900 to compile estimates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths for all the diseases children are routinely vaccinated against.
In only four diseases — hepatitis A and B, invasive pneumococcal diseases and varicella (the cause of chickenpox and shingles) — did deaths and hospitalizations fall less than 90 percent. Those vaccines are all relatively new — the one for chickenpox, for example, was adopted nationally only in 1995. Also, some diseases like hepatitis typically strike adults, who are less likely to be immunized.
Whole Offit op/ed here.
Some reason reporting on the autism/vaccine myth here.
Disclosure: I was vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis in December.