03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Top Autism Panel Backs Research Objectives Mentioning Vaccines -- Dueling Press Releases Ensue

On Tuesday, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), Washington's leading arbiter for directing federal funds to autism research, unanimously voted to recommend studies that include investigations into possible links between autism and environmental triggers - including vaccines - in certain subsets of children.

The IACC has not yet posted details on what was decided at the meeting, but two opposing autism organizations are already applauding either A) the inclusion of vaccine-autism studies in the federal research plan; or B) the rejection of such studies from the plan - depending on whose statement one reads.

On Wednesday, the nation's largest, most mainstream autism foundation, Autism Speaks, issued a press release under the headline: "IACC Includes Vaccine Research Objective In Strategic Plan For Autism Research - Autism Speaks is Encouraged by New Language Recommending Funding of Vaccine Research."

According to the release, Autism Speaks is pleased with the IACC, which it said "unanimously calls for studies to determine if there are sub-populations that are more susceptible to environmental exposures such as immune challenges related to naturally occurring infections, vaccines or underlying immune problems."

Autism Speaks has reason to support more research in this area. A new, small study in the Journal of Child Neurology shows that mitochondrial dysfunction, vaccine-related fever, and autisitc regression may be related, in some cases.

Researchers looked at 28 children with ASD and mitochondrial disease and found that 17 of them (60.7 percent) had gone through autistic regression, and 12 of the regressive cases happened following fever. Among the 12 children who regressed after fever, a third of them had fever associated with vaccination, as was the case of Hannah Poling v. HHS.

Meanwhile, the Autism Speaks statement rightly noted that Congressional leaders who drafted the Combating Autism Act (CAA) of 2006, specifically said in the floor debate - and colloquy - on the bill that the IACC should use CAA funds to investigate "all possible causes of autism - including vaccines."

But Autism Speaks has a fledgling and Lilliputian rival, spawned in part from the defection of its former spokeswoman, Alison Singer, called the Autism Science Foundation (ASF), formed earlier this year. ASF was founded to study all potential causes of autism, except for vaccines, whose link to the disorder, the new group says, has been thoroughly debunked.

The Autism Science Foundation issued its own press release on the IACC vote, but curiously, instead of protesting the inclusion of vaccine-autism research into the recommendations, the group chose to deny that any such recommendations were actually made in the first place.

"Autism Science Foundation Agrees with Decision to Keep Vaccine Research Out of the IACC Autism Plan," the opposing press release said. "Alison Singer joined her colleagues on the IACC in voting to eliminate references in the autism strategic plan that could imply that vaccines cause autism or that call for additional vaccine research," the ASF release said.

And, Singer added: "Draft materials submitted to the IACC suggesting vaccines and/or vaccine components were implicated in autism were rejected by the committee because the IACC determined that they were not based on good science."

The IACC rejected vaccine-specific studies, but according to Singer, "Two initiatives in the plan, one old and one new, could allow for vaccines to be studied as part of larger environmental initiatives if circumstances warranted."

The IACC, she said, voted to keep previously approved language "calling for studies of environmental exposures outlined in the 2007 IOM report 'Autism and the Environment,' which could include vaccines." The panel also voted unanimously to "add a new objective to study whether or not there are certain subpopulations that are more susceptible to environmental exposures such as immune challenges (including naturally occurring infection, vaccines, and/or immune disorders)."

And, Singer added: "There is nothing in the plan that specifically calls for additional vaccine research because there are no data implicating vaccines as a possible cause of autism." She said that "research on environmental factors is important," without specifying what factors should be research.

And there was this, almost Orwellian statement:

Singer added that some groups seem to be misinterpreting the inclusion of the word 'vaccines' in the list of examples of immune challenges as a mandate for vaccine research, and have issued misleading statements. 'Based on the votes taken yesterday, the IACC was clear in its position about autism and vaccines. But if there is public confusion about this new research objective then I will try to make sure we clarify it at our next meeting.

So, just to recap: The Federal Government's top autism panel has voted unanimously to support studies into autism and its possible environmental triggers - including vaccination. In turn, Autism Speaks has cheered "including vaccine research objectives in the IACC plan" while its supposed rival, ASF, has equally cheered that "vaccine research (is) out of the IACC autism plan."

Some parents I spoke with grudglingly accepted ASF's view of events, however. "IACC took out ALL proposed vaccine research studies; They specifically eliminated A) a vax-unvax study, B) an unvaxed or partially vaxed sibs study and C) an adjuvant study - all gone," said Katie Wright, whose parents founded Autism Speaks after her son was diagnosed with the disorder. "They only left the word "vaccine" in a long laundry list of POTENTIAL future possible (translation never) study topics."

Whether the IACC has recommended specific vaccine-autism research, or environmental-autism research in which vaccines might be included, vaccines remain on the list of possible contributors to autistic regression in some children, at least for now, at the IACC.

And that is just how Congressional leaders intended it to be.