U.S. health officials have agreed that childhood vaccines given a young Georgia girl led to autism-like symptoms and say she should be compensated from a federal vaccine-injury fund, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The decision is significant because, while the government has not conceded that vaccines cause autism, parents and advocates for children with the disorder see the decision as a victory that may help thousands of other families with claims that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative widely used in vaccines, may cause autism.
The government "has not conceded that vaccines cause autism," Linda Renzi, the lawyer representing U.S. officials, told the AP. Federal health officials have consistently maintained that childhood vaccinations are safe, and several studies have discounted any link between thimerosal and autism, despite other pending claims.
According to documents obtained by the AP, five vaccines the girl received on one day in 2000 aggravated a previous condition, that led to worsening brain function "with features of autism spectrum disorder." The term "autism spectrum disorder" was created in the 1990s to encompass autism and a group of milder, related conditions.
The documents, the AP said, do not address whether it was the thimerosal -- or something else in the vaccines -- that was at fault.
The compensation fund, which is run by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, lists problems with brain function, such as the girl had, as a rare side effect of vaccines. Those problems are enough by themselves to warrant compensation, the AP reported, even without autism-like symptoms. The fund has already made many payouts in such cases.
The girl's parents have declined to comment, because the case is not final.