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CDC to Study Vaccines and Autism

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to study autism as a possible clinical outcome of immunization, as part of its newly adopted 5-year research agenda for vaccine safety, the agency said on its website.

The CDC will also study mitochondrial dysfunction and the potential risk for post-vaccine "neurological deterioration," and convene an expert panel on the feasibility of studying health outcomes such as autism among vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

The CDC plan adopts recommendations approved by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the US Department of Health and Human Services. It also comes one month after the federal government's leading autism body, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), signaled a shift in research priorities toward environmental triggers for autism, which the IACC said could include toxins, biological agents and "adverse events following immunization."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Immunization Safety Office Scientific Agenda indentified the need to research "Neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD)" as a possible clinical outcome of vaccination.

The plan also seeks to deternine if the mercury-based preservative thimerosal is associated with increased risk for "clinically important tics or Tourette syndrome." The CDC cited one study (Thompson, NEJM, 2007), which "found that increasing exposure to mercury from birth to age 7 months was associated with motor and phonic tics in boys," and added that "an association between exposure to thimerosal and tics was found in two earlier studies (Andrews, Pediatrics, 2004; Verstraeten, Pediatrics, 2003)."

And, noting that the IACC federal autism panel "suggested several studies including vaccinated versus unvaccinated children to determine if there are differences in health outcomes," the CDC said it will convene an "external expert committee to offer guidance on the feasibility of conducting such studies and additional studies related to the immunization schedule, including studies that may indicate if multiple vaccinations increase risk for immune system disorders."

Meanwhile, the IACC has signaled a shift in research priorities into the causes of autism, moving away from genetic studies in favor of investigating the interaction between genes and environmental factors, which it said could include toxins, biological agents and vaccines.

The IACC, among other things, helps direct millions of federal dollars into autism research. Until now, the IACC's updated strategic plan noted, "the majority of this funding (was) directed toward the identification of genetic risk factors (with) less funding and attention toward environmental research."

A number of environmental factors are now being researched, the IACC said, adding that, "Recent studies suggest that factors such as parental age and exposure to infections, toxins, and other biological agents may confer environmental risk. These findings require further investigation."

As for vaccines, "Numerous epidemiological studies have found no relationship between ASD and vaccines containing the mercury based preservative thimerosal," the IACC noted. "These data, as well as subsequent research, indicate that the link between autism and vaccines is unsupported by the epidemiological research literature. However, the Institute of Medicine report acknowledged that the existing population-based studies were limited in their ability to detect small susceptible subpopulations that could be more genetically vulnerable to environmental exposures."

There are several new research initiatives that the IACC has proposed, including:

  • Support at least three studies of special populations and environmental risk factors for ASD in pregnancy and the early postnatal period, such as toxic exposures and "adverse events following immunization (such as fever and seizures), and mitochondrial impairment."
  • Support at least three studies that focus on the role of epigenetics (the environmental impact on genes) in the etiology of ASD.
  • Initiate studies on at least 10 environmental factors identified in the recommendations from the 2007 IOM report "Autism and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities for Research."

And, the IACC once again took note that:

Although the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) stressed that the temporal occurrence of this regression and the immunization schedule is not evidence of a causal relationship, regressive autism warrants further research in rigorously defined subsets of ASD. In addition, the NVAC recommended that studies assess whether adverse events following immunization (e.g., fever and seizures) correlate with risk of ASD.

The strategic plan also renews the IACC's support for funding at least two studies "to determine if there are subpopulations that are more susceptible to environmental exposures (e.g., immune challenges related to infections, vaccinations, or underlying autoimmune problems)."

Autism has become a "national health emergency," the IACC added.

That federal panel, along with the CDC's Immunization Safety Office, HHS's National Vaccine Advisory Committee, and even the national Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) now all support further research into a possible association between autism and immunization.

For years, thousands of parents have been exhorting the government to study adverse events following immunization such as fever and seizures, in addition to mitochondrial impairment and "subpopulations that are more susceptible to damage from infections, vaccines and autoimmune disorders."

Perhaps now they may finally get their wish.