The US Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) will pay over $1.5 million to the family of a child whose parents allege acquired autism after routine vaccinations in 2000. CBS called the payment to the family of Hannah Poling the “first court award in a vaccine-autism claim” (9 September 2010, CBS).
However, the payment does not acknowledge a vaccine-autism link. The payment was made for a mitochondrial disorder and encephalopathy which fall under a category of so-called “Table” injuries for which parents do not need to show proof that the vaccine aggravated the condition as long as it appeared within a certain amount of time after vaccination. The VICP, which was established in 1988 (US Court of Federal Claims), has made thousands of such payments since its establishment. The same court found no compelling evidence of a link between vaccination and autism in a ruling last year, which was upheld in a federal appeals court on the same day as the Poling payout decision, (27 August 2010, Associated Press).
“It’s a complicated story…the government hasn’t explained to the press or the public exactly what their thinking was in this case,” says Paul Offit, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The symptoms which a doctor later used to diagnose her with autism “were part of a global encephalopathy,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine two years ago (15 May 2008, NEJM) and could have been aggravated by the vaccine or by other naturally-occurring childhood fevers.
When the vaccine court conceded the Poling case in 2008 the then-director of the Centers for Disease Control Julie Gerberding told National Public Radio that “The government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism.” (7 March 2008, NPR). Gerberding now heads Merck’s vaccine unit.
Regardless of what lawyers in courts rule, Offit says, “whether or not vaccines cause autism is a scientific issue it therefore can be addressed in a scientific manner, and I think it has been”.
The 27 August 2010 Decision Regarding Damages [pdf]