|Andy Coghlan, reporter New Scientist
The family of Hannah Poling, a nine-year-old girl, is to be the first to receive compensation from the US federal government for health problems associated with routine childhood vaccinations, reports CBS News.
As well as receiving a payout of $1.5 million, the family will receive $500,000 per year to pay for the child's care. But while CBS reports that 4800 other cases are awaiting settlement in the federal vaccine court, Hannah's case may be a one-off.
She began showing signs of autism, with accompanying screaming fits, after she'd been vaccinated against nine diseases in July 2000, aged 18 months.
The sum agreed reaffirms the government's initial promise to compensate the family in 2008. Back then, it concluded that the vaccinations may have aggravated an underlying inherited condition in Hannah's mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells that supply energy.
As New Scientist reported in 2008, it's possible that Hannah's mitochondria may not have been working properly anyway, with potential underlying damage to her most energy-hungry tissues in the brain and muscles.
Officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services investigating Hannah's medical history said that vaccines had "significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in energy metabolism", causing damage "with features of autism spectrum disorder". The officials said that the vaccine didn't "cause" her autism, but "resulted" in it.
Lindsey Kent, of the University of St Andrews in the UK, says that mitochondrial disorders are very rare, only affecting 0.0057 per cent of the population. And the proportion of those with autism as well will be even smaller, with autism affecting just 1 per cent of children. As to the specific mutation in Hannah's DNA, there are only four other cases known worldwide, according to Salvatore DiMauro of Columbia University in New York.
(Image: John Spink/AP/PA)