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Vaccine/autism debate heats up

From the Associated Press last night: "Government health officials have conceded that childhood vaccines worsened a rare, underlying disorder that ultimately led to autism-like symptoms in a Georgia girl, and that she should be paid from a federal vaccine-injury fund."

So the pain-wracked, emotionally charged debate flares up again. Thousands of families desperately want to know: Do vaccines -- or vaccine preservatives -- cause autism?

The thing is, science just hasn't linked the two definitively yet. I asked Dr. Ben Danielson, medical director at Odessa Brown Children's Clinic at Children's Hospital, for his take on the ruling.

"My general sense is that the scientific evidence still points away from vaccines as a cause of autism," Danielson says. "This ruling may be interpreted widely by different folks and I hope all pertinent information is available and understood before conclusions are drawn."

Deep breath.

If you're on the sidelines of this debate, you might be wondering if you should vaccinate your own child. Absolutely, definitively yes, says Danielson and countless others. Vaccines save lives. This we know.

"The risk is so low, compared to the benefits," says Dr. Michelle Terry, a pediatrician at Children's and professor at UW Medical School. "This particular girl's condition is so very rare. The risk of not vaccinating and a baby catching a disease like pertussis – which can cause death, respiratory collapse - we really recommend all of the vaccines on schedule."

Those thousands of families that are waiting for an answer? They're also seeking compensation for disabilities they say were caused by vaccines. But this case probably won't help their cause. The Associated Press' report goes on to say, "Medical and legal experts say the narrow wording and circumstances probably make the case an exception -- not a precedent for thousands of other pending claims."

So, yesterday's ruling appears - at least for now - to be an isolated case. And those families still waiting, wondering; still painfully angry and frustrated? They'll have to wait some more, and hope some hero laboring away in a lab somewhere (preferably not on a drug-company's payroll) finds an answer, and soon.

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