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Hannah Poling and the Pediatrics thimerosal study: two “big” stories with little press response

Posted Sep 17 2010 10:06pm

Two stories which are “big” news in some segments of the online autism community are the settlement amount for Hannah Poling and the recent study showing no link between autism and thimerosal in vaccines. While these have caused a fair amount of discussion on blogs (like this one), they didn’t generate that much press coverage.

We broke the Hannah Poling award story here on LeftBrainRightBrain on September 3. The story was ignored, even by such pro autism-as-vaccine-injury blogs as the Age of Autism until September 9th, when Sharyl Attkisson (who has some connection to the people at the Age of Autism blog) wrote about it for CBS .

There are a couple of dozen entries in Google News on Hannah Poling. Few major outlets. One that did carry it is the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the home town newspaper for the Poling family. In Settlement reached in autism-vaccine case the AJC quoted Dr. John Shoffner:

Dr. John Shoffner, a neurologist and national expert who has conducted research on autism and its causes, said researchers have found no link between vaccines and autism. And he said he strongly favors vaccination.

“The preponderance of data shows that vaccines are important and safe for children to prevent preventable and sometimes life-threatening infectious diseases,” Shoffner said. “I certainly am in favor and support the CDC’s as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of vaccination.”

Shoffner is a co-author of a journal article that describes Poling’s case without naming her.

Edited to add: I forgot to include this quote from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“It’s critical to remember that the government has never compensated, nor has it ever been ordered to compensate, any case based on a determination that autism was actually caused by vaccines,” said Martin Kramer, communications director for the Health Resources and Services Administration. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is part of the administration. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims decides who will be paid damages for injuries that result from vaccines, under a 1988 law that created a program.

Another so-called “big” story from the last few weeks is the study on autism and thimerosal in Pediatrics, Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal From Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism . Sometimes when an important paper comes out (that I am aware of) I watch Google News as the embargo is lifted. I did so with this paper. Nothing happened. OK, I think Disability Scoop had a story out right at midnight ( this one, if I recall correctly ). Heck, it wasn’t until Friday that the CDC added the study to their website (it isn’t mentioned on the main cdc.gov webpage). Even SafeMinds (who are, in cases like this SafeBet—as in, it is a safe bet they will put out a critique of the paper) didn’t respond for days.

Sure, I was interested. And, yes, these stories sparked some of the most active conversations on this blog in a while. But I am still left with the basic conclusion: the general public has already absorbed these stories. The government conceded the Hannah Poling case 2 years ago. It isn’t new. The idea that mercury in vaccines cause autism—no longer part of the front line public discussion.

I’m not the only one to make this comment. The Washington Post had this to say four days after the paper was made public:

But when the journal Pediatrics published on Monday a study that found no increased risk of autism among more than 1,000 babies who’d been exposed prenatally or in the first 20 months of life to ethylmercury from vaccines, it was met with a general shrug. Neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times even reported on it, though the Los Angeles Times did, in its Booster Shots blog.

Sure, these stories will never completely go away. The vaccine/autism story will never go completely away. But the heyday is over.

  1. Sullivan:
    Another interesting statement from a story on Hannah Poling comes from the New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727783.900-autism-drug-aims-to-balance-brain-signals.html "According to Salvatore DiMauro of Columbia University in New York, there are only four other cases of Poling's specific mutation worldwide, so the ruling is unlikely to apply to the other 5000 compensation cases." Dr. DiMauro is one of the world's top mitochondrial experts. He appears to be saying (or the New Scientist appears to be implying that he is saying) that the mitochondrial defect noted in Hannah Poling could be involved in the etiology of her condition. This mutation was noted two years ago when the story broke. There was much discussion back and forth about whether this mutation had any significance or was just benign.
  2. Sullivan:
    Another observation: The Hannah Poling story is what revived David Kirby's career as a spokesperson/publicist/journalist for the groups claiming thimerosal caused an autism epidemic. He had made a post shortly before the story broke describing how he was about to leave the story behind for a new project. I find it very interesting that David Kirby has been silent on both of these stories but, most of all, on the Hannah Poling story. He has a piece just this week on Huffington Post on food safety, so he is still active. He's just moved on to his new project. I wish him well and hope he is doing a better job on that project than he did on autism.
  3. Sullivan:
    I meant to include another quote from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I've added it now, and I include it here:
    "It’s critical to remember that the government has never compensated, nor has it ever been ordered to compensate, any case based on a determination that autism was actually caused by vaccines," said Martin Kramer, communications director for the Health Resources and Services Administration. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is part of the administration. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims decides who will be paid damages for injuries that result from vaccines, under a 1988 law that created a program.

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