Statement on Autism, Vaccines & Mitochondrial Disease

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Mitochondrial Disease Action Committee (MitoAction) Statement on Autism, Vaccines and Mitochondrial Disease


March 21, 2008
The recent headlines concerning the potential links between autism, mitochondrial diseases, and vaccinations are evidence of the need for better understanding about mitochondrial disease. It is conservatively estimated that one in 4000 individuals are affected by mitochondrial disease, although specialists agree that the disease is under-recognized in the general population. The presentations and severity of symptoms of mitochondrial disorders clinically vary and affect both adults and children.

Vaccinations are critical in protecting the health of our children. All children, even those with suspected or known mitochondrial diseases, should receive the recommended vaccinations. The risks of these communicable illnesses outweigh the risk of vaccine-related reactions. Any causal relationship of thimerisol to incidence of autism has been disproven by observing the incidence of autism before and after eliminating this form of mercury from the vaccines. MitoAction encourages parents to talk to their pediatrician about these concerns.

David Holtzman, MD, PhD, a Pediatric Neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, notes, “Mitochondrial Disease may present with the clinical features of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Several recent studies have documented biochemical evidence of abnormal mitochondrial functions in at least 30% of children with ASD.”

Awareness and attention to mitochondrial disorders will bring greater understanding of the impact of environmental and physiologic stressors on both autism and mitochondrial disease. Further research may explain how autism can be an expression of mitochondrial diseases and could be prevented.