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Calls to Action

Vaccine Safety Panel to Include the Public in Setting Priorities

April 13, 2008

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: April 13, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government began an unprecedented effort Friday to give vaccine critics a say in shaping how the nation researches immunization safety questions.

The meeting, the first of more to be set, came amid new controversy about vaccines and autism — and a fledgling theory that vaccinations might worsen a rare condition called mitochondrial dysfunction that sets off certain forms of autism.

Federal health officials said the work was not in response to that controversy and included many more questions than autism, including rare side effects of the new shingles vaccine.

A government-appointed working group is to pick the most important safety questions for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research in the next five years. The group is also supposed to get significant public input in setting those priorities, to ease skepticism that the authorities hide or discount information about vaccines.

“A crisis of trust is going to be a crisis of public health,” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, head of the National Vaccine Program Office.

Dr. Andrew Pavia, a University of Utah pediatric infectious disease specialist who is head of the group, said Friday, “There's a need to engage as many voices as possible. It's a chance to make sure the right questions are going to be asked.”

Studies have addressed vaccines and autism and found no link, including with a once-common mercury-based preservative.

The new question surfaced last month, with news that the government had agreed to pay the family of a girl, Hannah Poling, 9, for injuries linked to vaccines. Her family said Hannah was a healthy 19-month-old when she received five shots. Afterward, she became feverish, her behavior changed, and eventually autism was diagnosed. Her parents filed a claim under the vaccine compensation act that was granted on the presumption that the vaccines could have exacerbated an underlying condition.