Hannah Poling is a young girl who developed an autism-like syndrome after receiving a series of vaccines in her second year of life. Subsequently, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program reviewed her case and felt that there was a logical connection between the administration of the vaccines and the onset of her autism-like syndrome. Many people have used her story as an example of how vaccines can cause autism. In fact, however, it was actually the side effects of the vaccines that triggered her rare underlying cellular disorder, which then blossomed into a syndrome that resembles autism. So let’s look at her story in more detail.
When Hannah Poling was nineteen months old, she received five vaccines in order to catch up on the recommended vaccine schedule. Those vaccines included DTaP, HiB, MMR, chickenpox, and IPV (inactivated polio). Two days later she had a fever with persistent crying that continued for several days. About ten days after the vaccinations she developed a rash consistent with chickenpox, presumably from the vaccine. Over the next several months, Hannah regressed developmentally and developed several symptoms of mild autism spectrum disorder.
After months of extensive and expensive testing, Hannah was ultimately diagnosed with encephalopathy due to a rare mitochondrial disease. The interesting fact about Hannah’s situation is that children with this mitochondrial disorder usually develop normally until they are faced with a significant stress to their system. The stress may be a severe illness, a high fever, or significant dehydration. When the stress occurs, the mitochondria no longer function properly. Mitochondria are the energy plants of cells. When the energy runs low due to poorly functioning mitochondria, the cells are damaged, leading to complications like Hannah’s encephalopathy. It was her encephalopathy that led to her autism spectrum disorder.
In short, children with Hannah’s mitochondrial disease are susceptible to developing encephalopathy and developmental delays whenever their body faces a significant-enough stress. In Hannah’s case, the stress appears to have been the vaccines, which led to the fever and the case of vaccine-associated chickenpox.