The Polling family could receive as much as $20 million over Hannah's lifetime, say observers familiar with the case.
The award stems from a sealed settlement between the federal government and the Pollings reached in 2007, five years after the family filed suit in federal vaccine court claiming that a combination vaccine Hannah received in July 2000 caused her to develop autism.
Hannah had been developing normally prior to the doctor's office visit at age 18 months. After she was vaccinated, she stopped eating, developed fevers, stopped responding when spoken to, and began exhibiting signs of autism, including screaming fits.
Government continues to maintain vaccines do not cause autism
In acknowldeging the sequence of events, the government in its settlement said that the vaccine did not "cause" Hannah's autism, but rather aggravated a rare mitochondrial disorder that "resulted in" autism. The distinction, while subtle, allows the government to continue to maintain, as it did in all the other vaccine autism suits prior to the Pollings', that childhood disease vaccines are safe and do not trigger autism. Yet, as Time noted in writing about the original settlement in 2008, "If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities."
Medical research remains inconclusive on any links between childhood vaccines and autism. Even after thimoseral, a mercury-based neurotoxin, was removed from vaccines in 2001, childhood autism rates have continued to climb. Most other lawsuits by parents claiming vaccine-autism links have failed in the special federal court set up to hear these cases; more than 4,000 still await resolution.