Government group instructed to gather public input on how and when to vaccinate children

Friday, April 18, 2008 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 6:36 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The news: A government-appointed working group is charged with picking the most important safety questions for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research over the next five years. What’s unique is that the group also is supposed to get significant public input in setting those priorities, an effort to ease skepticism that authorities hide or discount important information about vaccines.

The event: Last month, news surfaced that the government had agreed to pay the family of 9-year-old Hannah Poling for injuries linked to vaccines. Her family said Hannah was a healthy 19-month-old when she received five shots. She became feverish, her behavior changed, and she was eventually diagnosed with autism.

Her parents filed a claim that the government granted on the presumption that the vaccines could have exacerbated an underlying condition — although federal health officials have insisted that doesn’t mean vaccines cause autism.

The context: Federal health officials said the government-appointed working group, planned for two years, wasn’t in response to any controversy and encompasses many more questions than autism.

Numerous studies have addressed vaccines and autism and found no link.

The science: Mitochondria are energy factories for cells, and mitochondrial disease — estimated to affect about 1 in 5,000 births — can thus attack any organ, including the brain, by depriving it of energy.

Scientists believe that stress such as an infection can set off that damage in people with underlying mitochondrial dysfunction, but whether a vaccine causes enough stress to do so isn’t known.

A bigger question for some of the government’s advisers was what the CDC’s proposed research agenda didn’t include — the question of how many vaccines should be given in one visit, and if they’re all really needed by age 2.

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