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A Boy’s Death Sheds Light on a Rare Vaccine Hazard

The U.S. medical establishment has long rejected the idea of a connection between vaccines and autism. That position recently was bolstered by a three-part investigative series by the British journal BMJ that found that a 1998 study that spurred belief in the link was a deliberate hoax.

However, what’s often lost amid the controversy is that vaccines do, in rare instances, cause grave injuries, including brain damage with symptoms suffered by autistic kids.

One such example is that of Elias Tembenis, as CBS News reports. Born in August, 2000, Elias was developing normally until he was four months old and received a second dose of the DTaP vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

A day later, he was brought to the hospital after he came down with a fever and suffered a seizure lasting more than 15 minutes. From then on, according to medical records, Elias was tormented by a series of maladies: ear infections, epilepsy and pervasive development disorder, which is often associated with autism.

A few months after his seventh birthday, Elias’s parents rushed him to the hospital with a fever and a cough. He suffered a seizure and subsequently lapsed into cardiac arrest, which killed him.

After considering filing a case alleging that Elias’s vaccines were responsible for his symptoms of autism, his parents instead focused on his seizures and epilepsy when they sought an award in federal vaccine court, arguing that they were the direct result of the DTaP shot he received in 2000. Vaccine court cases charging that vaccines caused autism have been dismissed, but cases like Elias’s, in which claimants focus on other aspects of injuries that may include symptoms of autism, are often successful.

Elias’s parents won their case late last year. The award was not disclosed, but the case now joins what CBS says are nearly 1,300 examples of brain injuries linked to vaccines and compensated in court over the past 20 years, a pool of cases that some experts say should be subjected to further study.

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