It was a big morning in Atlanta today. In case you missed CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding this morning on CNN's "House Call with Dr Sanjay Gupta," it was rather interesting:
If I have read the transcript below correctly, Dr. Gerberding is saying that, yes, in some mitochondrial disorder cases, vaccines can be the trigger that causes "symptoms that have characteristics of autism." So, Dr. Gerberding admits a link -- but then denies that it is a link to autism.
The only problem with this line of argument is that I know for a fact that Hannah, as well as the kids in the new unpublished mito study were, as one doctor told me, "plucked right from autism clinics. They all have autism, there is no question of that."
JULIE GERBERDING, DR., CDC DIRECTOR: "Well, you know, I don't have all the facts because I still haven't been able to review the case files myself. But my understanding is that the child has a -- what we think is a rare mitochondrial disorder. And children that have this disease, anything that stresses them creates a situation where their cells just can't make enough energy to keep their brains functioning normally. Now, we all know that vaccines can occasionally cause fevers in kids. So if a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines. And if you're predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism."
So, complications from vaccines can set off damage that causes characteristics of autism (just not autism itself). I don't believe I have ever heard that from a CDC official before, though that doesn't mean they never said it.
At the same time, this language does not quite jive with what Director Gerberding told reporters just over three weeks ago on a conference call:
"Let me be very clear that (the) government has made absolutely no statement about indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism. That is a complete mischaracterization of the findings of the case, and a complete mischaracterization of any of the science that we have at our disposal today. So I think we need to set the record straight on that."
I guess it all depends on what the meaning of the word, "cause," is.
The CNN interview this morning with Sanjay Gupta continues:
GUPTA: Are we ready to say right now that childhood vaccines do not cause autism?
GERBERDING: We can say absolutely for sure that we don't really understand the causes of autism. We've got a long way to go before we get to the bottom of this.
GUPTA: And you are comfortable saying that with everything we know?
GERBERDING: I'll never be comfortable with everything we know. I mean, I think we have to have an open mind about this. We know that there is very little chance that something related to a vaccine is going to cause a serious problem for a child.
Amid the usual "vaccines save lives" answer to questioning if it's possible that childhood vaccines could cause autism, there is some new and interesting rhetoric in the CDC Director's statements:
"Set off some damage"
"Have an open mind"
"We don't know"
"Get to the bottom" of vaccines and autism.
"Ill never be comfortable"
"Very little chance" - instead of "there is no evidence"
"Something related to A vaccine" - (as opposed to several vaccines at once)
This seems like news to me, but I could be wrong. At the least, I think it is interesting, and worthy of follow up, should anyone in the media be able to talk with Dr. Gerberding. For some reason, she doesn't return my calls.