CBS Asks: Vaccines, Autism and Brain Damage: What's in a Name?
Posted Sep 15 2010 12:00am
From CBS News's Sharyl Attkisson
Vaccines have saved untold millions of lives, and the vast majority of people who get them suffer no major problems. But there's a trade-off: occasionally, vaccines cause injury or death. Very rarely, patients are left with what's known as "encephalopathy", the medical term for brain damage.
In fact, CBS News has found nearly 1,300 cases in which vaccine-related brain damage has been compensated in court over the past 20 years.
The debate over any links between vaccines and autism - a behavior problem triggered by brain damage - couldn't be more contentious. The great majority of medical opinion holds that vaccines don't cause autism. However, many of the same experts don't dispute that vaccines can, in rare instances, cause brain damage.
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Our examination of federal vaccine court decisions over the years reflects this. Children who end up with autistic symptoms or autism have won vaccine injury claims over the years-as long as they highlighted general, widely-accepted brain damage; not autism specifically. But when autism or autistic symptoms are alleged as the primary brain damage, the cases are lost.
That doesn't make sense to families who see autism as a specific form of encephalopathy. But it makes perfect sense to the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Brian Strom, who has served on Institute of Medicine panels advising the government on vaccine safety. He says the prevailing medical opinion is that vaccines are scientifically linked to encephalopathy, but not scientifically linked to autism. Read the full story and comment at CBS News