With thanks to correspondent Liz Ditz, it now appears to me that CBS News got it wrong when it implied that the federal government had conceded a causal link between vaccines and autism in the suit for which it announced a settlement earlier today (see my POL posting below).
The federal payment does not acknowledge a vaccine-autism link. The payment was made for a mitochondrial disorder and encephalopathy which fall under a category of so-called "Table" injuries for which parents do not need to show proof that the vaccine aggravated the condition as long as it appeared within a certain amount of time after vaccination.
"It's a complicated story...the government hasn't explained to the press or the public exactly what their thinking was in this case," says Paul Offit, a pediatrician and infectious disease researcher at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The symptoms which a doctor later used to diagnose her with autism "were part of a global encephalopathy," he wrote in an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine two years ago (15 May 2008, NEJM) and could have been aggravated by the vaccine or by other naturally-occurring childhood fevers. This child, in other words, did not suffer from autism but from a neurodegenerative disorder with "features of autism." Dr. Poling, the child's father, is indeed saying that his daughter's case is not unique - that it is typical and therefore is does say something about a broader vaccine-autism connection. But Hannah Poling's history has many features that are not typical of autism - like a history of otitis media with frequent fevers, seizures, and what sounds like a rare encephalitis that probably did result from vaccines. Even if we put her mitochondrial mutation aside - this is not a typical case of autism.
A good summary of the case can be found on this science blog.