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A stunning vaccine cover-up
June 16, 2005 7:45 AM   Subscribe

A "stunning" link between an ingredient in childhood vaccines and autism leads to a cover-up conspiracy. "But instead of taking immediate steps to alert the public and rid the vaccine supply of thimerosal, the officials and executives at Simpsonwood spent most of the next two days discussing how to cover up the damaging data. According to transcripts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, many at the meeting were concerned about how the damaging revelations about thimerosal would affect the vaccine industry's bottom line." An earlier post (concerned only with fish) asked, "Got mercury?" Why, yes you do - and fish is the least of your problems. Interestingly, hints of this story surfaced in the media in the Spring/Summer of 2005. There may also be a link between thimerosal and Alzheimer's, A.D.D., and Asperger's Syndrome. A thimerosal resource guide. Maybe we'll take notice this time around?
posted by spock (137 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The thimerosal-autism link is, to use a scientific term, paranoiac bullshit.

From Madsen et al's canonical study on the matter published in Pediatrics in 2003. The scientists looked at the incidence of autism in Danish children from 1971 to 2000. During this period, thimerosal was used in vaccines and then, in 1992, it was removed. You'd expect that the incidence would drop after the early '90s. Instead:

RESULTS: A total of 956 children with a male-to-female ratio of 3.5:1 had been diagnosed with autism during the period from 1971-2000. There was no trend toward an increase in the incidence of autism during that period when thimerosal was used in Denmark, up through 1990. From 1991 until 2000 the incidence increased and continued to rise after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, including increases among children born after the discontinuation of thimerosal. [My emphasis -- docgonzo] CONCLUSIONS: The discontinuation of thimerosal-containing vaccines in Denmark in 1992 was followed by an increase in the incidence of autism. Our ecological data do not support a correlation between thimerosal-containing vaccines and the incidence of autism.

Full journal article here.
posted by docgonzo at 8:06 AM on June 16, 2005 [2 favorites]


Why if it weren't for your meddling, Freedom of Information Act.... and your dog too.

Seriously, I can't believe nobody's tried to kill the FOIA yet. I mean, it seems like one of the best tools available to fight insanity. Is it just being overlooked somehow?
posted by odinsdream at 8:10 AM on June 16, 2005


Wow. This is horrifying. All I can think of is if my 18 month old baby got thimerosal or not. This is so predictable of the government...rather than protect the babies, protect the companies. I understand trying to protect them so we will have vaccines if necessary, but how about also forcing them to find something else to preserve them? And not allowing them to ship the vaccines off to developing countries that REALLY don't have the resources to deal with the huge autism rates. Incredible. But what can you do about it? These companies (and the CDC!) are protected by the government. Ugh. My baby...
posted by aacheson at 8:11 AM on June 16, 2005


Thank you, docgonzo.
posted by Plutor at 8:16 AM on June 16, 2005


...and a call of "bullshit" on that study: Danish Thimerosal-Autism Study in Pediatrics: Misleading and
Uninformative on Autism-Mercury Link
(PDF) (HTML link here)
posted by spock at 8:18 AM on June 16, 2005


I hate that there's so many instant cures floating around, all those "just do this or don't do this and the problem will be solved", and I understand that they make it difficult for parents who actually have to deal with this child they're learning to communicate with. That still doesn't kep my little ears from perking up at ongoing controversies like this one, which has been nagging around for a while. The most recent two bits on it that I read included one about the Amish, and another by Nick Hornby presenting some of his thoughts on the ongoing debate.
posted by redsparkler at 8:23 AM on June 16, 2005


While I don't know one way or another regarding thimerosal, I found it particularly damning that there was a Get Out of Jail Free card in the Homeland Security Act specifically exempting companies from lawsuits over thimerosal.

My faith in the federal government, whatever was left of it, died that day.
posted by unixrat at 8:29 AM on June 16, 2005


"Hey! I got an idea! Let's put Mercury in vaccines...what could go wrong!?" Brilliant.
posted by aether1 at 8:30 AM on June 16, 2005


I think of spock's referenced "call of bullshit" much in the same way as yesterday's Heritage Foundation press release claiming that the earlier virginity pledge studies were "intentionally misleading:" an attempt by non-scientists with preconceived notions to reinforce those prejudices by any means necessary, and in ways that would not survive peer review. But don't let me get in the way of your conspiracy theories.

Here's a review of 12 other studies:
Conclusions. Studies do not demonstrate a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and ASD, and the pharmacokinetics of ethylmercury make such an association less likely. Epidemiologic studies that support a link demonstrated significant design flaws that invalidate their conclusions. Evidence does not support a change in the standard of practice with regard to administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines in areas of the world where they are used.
posted by grouse at 8:31 AM on June 16, 2005


This vaccine shit is just a smokescreen. The reptilians are actually making the children autistic with subdermal chip implants. The children are abducted for the implants by freemasons (so that they can continue to select underlings for the reptillian-in-disguise leaders), and the implanting is done by the reverse vampires.

The Rand Corporation manufactures the chips, which were designed by greys originally for implantation in the Knights Templar. The whole operation is financed by six jewish bankers hidden in a bunker in Switzerland and overseen by the UN.

The whole thing was secretly uncovered by a stripper who gave President Clinton a hummer and was secretly executed by the Arkansas State Police. Vince Foster had her diary and was going to blow the whole thing wide open, which is why he was killed.

More recently, George W. Bush invaded Iraq to secure supplies of tungsten, which is needed in manufacture of the chips.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:36 AM on June 16, 2005


Did anyone read, why the put thimerosal in vaccines in the first place?
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:37 AM on June 16, 2005


Since living with an autistic child can be very difficult, and because it raises all kinds of guilt and grieving issues (people frequently have to greive for the child they thought they were going to have, etc, and this is sometimes poorly done because it seems like a betrayal of the autistic child), the hunt for a cause is very hard to give up. I think the lack of a link has been pretty firmly established, but that does not make it easy to take for parents of autistic children. Unfortunately, I think the efforts to excavate a link are misplaced and cause more pain than they alleviate.
posted by OmieWise at 8:37 AM on June 16, 2005


Vaccine myths and why they are dangerous ...More worrisome, though, is the anti-vaccine views fuelled by misinformation, or bad science. This is the "umbrellas cause rain because we see more umbrellas on rainy days" phenomenon.
Seizure disorders, autism and SIDS all show themselves in early childhood. Coincidentally, this is also the period when most immunizations are given. So often, vaccines are connected to an illness only in terms of time.
The real issue is not whether problems occur within days or weeks of an immunization but whether they occur more often after receiving a vaccine.
On this point, study after study has shown that these serious effects occur at the same rate with or without vaccine. However, those not immunized are more likely to get sick or die, or suffer brain damage from the infection the vaccine could have prevented. ...


That said, unless there's a real medical reason certain chemicals need to be in vaccines, they shouldn't be.
posted by amberglow at 8:41 AM on June 16, 2005 [1 favorite]


Read the Salon story closely. It's all about the mother's emotions, her horror, her unhappiness, her determination, etc. There's nothing substantial here about thimerosal. Just accusations, and a profile of a sadly distraught woman.
posted by shambles at 8:42 AM on June 16, 2005


Whether or not there is actually a link may be beside the point here. The description of the industry approach to dealing with the report is damning of the way the current axis of business and politics work. That is a disease in itself and one for which our need for a cure is urgent.
posted by donfactor at 8:45 AM on June 16, 2005


The real question:

Unquestionably, there appears to be an increase in the cases of autism. I know that's true in the US and apparently it's also the case in Denmark. No doubt similar trends exist across the developed world (odds are good that diagnosis of autism in developing countries is not all that great, so it doesn't lend itself to useful data).

The question becomes: why the rise?

Is it just a case of more people being correctly (or, perhaps over-) diagnosed with autism, or are there real environmental or other factors leading to this increase?

What can be done to reduce the instance of autism?

Similarly: less serious mental disabilities (or whatever you want to call them) such as ADD/ADHD and Aspergers also seem to be on the rise. There's no question that a big part of this is increased diagnosis. But could it also be that, again, there are some environmental factors that are involved?

While I don't understand why mercury was used as a delivery medium for vaccines for young children, I agree that overall the risks are greater if vaccines aren't used than if they are.

Now, can someone please go back to researching why this increase is happening?
posted by Deathalicious at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2005


Mr_Zero: It was used as a preservative to keep microorganisms from growing in the vaccine stocks. Because while some people talk about how there might be a danger (although likely not) due to thimerosal in the vaccines, there is definitely a danger to the patient if those stocks have infectious bacteria growing in them. Or if they don't get vaccinated at all.

As an aside, since when does Salon publish op-eds from outside organizations as "News?" Next week, expect an "investigation" from a senior attorney at the American Petroleum Institute about how wind power kills birds and spoils the natural landscape.
posted by grouse at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2005


Shambles, the Salon article ref'd was by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Are you referring to a different one?

amberglow wrote:
That said, unless there's a real medical reason certain chemicals need to be in vaccines, they shouldn't be.

Exactly. Why expose ourselves or our kids to any more mercury anyway? Is there no better method for delivering vaccines?

And is there no cause for the rise in autism besides better diagnosis? This just seems unlikely to me. Maybe it's more environmental mercury exposure, and not vaccines; maybe it's something else entirely. But considering the devastation this disease can do, it seems callous and unnecessary to blow off concerned parents as crackpots who are "anti-science." Spend some time caring for an autistic 12 year old, and wondering what will happen to them if you die first, and then maybe you'll understand the urgency these parents feel.
posted by emjaybee at 8:50 AM on June 16, 2005


All I can say, as a board-certified pediatrician and science researcher, is that I hope that parents take concerns like this to their doctors rather than rely on articles published in magazines (online or dead pulp). OK, I can say one other thing, too -- I've read pretty much every study that's been done on vaccines and autism, thimerosal and autism, etc., and feel like the evidence just isn't there for any association. (Interestingly, the Salon folks chose to highlight Tom Verstraeten's gloom and doom in the first few paragraphs, but fail to mention his 2003 study in which he determined, based on studying over 120,000 infants, that no association exists.)

Again, I stress: talk to your pediatrician about this. Don't take the words of Salon, of your local politician, of a lobbyist, or of your next door neighbor as manna from heaven; instead, ask your pediatrician for evidence, engage in a reasoned discussion, and understand the methods in which data has been acquired.
posted by delfuego at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2005


Amazing. I did not expect it to take a full 21 minutes for someone to play the "conspiracy theories" card. Does the fact that there are wackos who see conspiracy theories everywhere mean that true conspiracies do not exist?

Is not the REACTION to the study referenced more troubling than whether or not a link is ever proven? Should the government, CDC, and drug companies be concerned first and foremost with the public's health? What part does a drug company's stock price play AT ALL in that decision?

We laughed the other day at the Chinese governments selling the public a bill of goods regarding cigarettes - to prop up their government tobacco program. But you are willing to overlook "Convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting was held at this Methodist retreat center, nestled in wooded farmland next to the Chattahoochee River, to ensure complete secrecy. The agency had issued no public announcement of the session -- only private invitations to 52 attendees. There were high-level officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, the top vaccine specialist from the World Health Organization in Geneva, and representatives of every major vaccine manufacturer, including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Wyeth and Aventis Pasteur. All of the scientific data under discussion, CDC officials repeatedly reminded the participants, was strictly "embargoed." There would be no making photocopies of documents, no taking papers with them when they left."

Can you seriously defend quotes such as these?

"We are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits," said Dr. Robert Brent, a pediatrician at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware. "This will be a resource to our very busy plaintiff attorneys in this country." Dr. Bob Chen, head of vaccine safety for the CDC, expressed relief that "given the sensitivity of the information, we have been able to keep it out of the hands of, let's say, less responsible hands." Dr. John Clements, vaccines advisor at the World Health Organization, declared flatly that the study "should not have been done at all" and warned that the results "will be taken by others and will be used in ways beyond the control of this group. The research results have to be handled."

Can you ignore the way the original report was dealt with with your application of the "conspiracy theory" label. It sounds like it meets the very definition of conspiracy to me.
posted by spock at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2005


Is it just a case of more people being correctly (or, perhaps over-) diagnosed with autism, or are there real environmental or other factors leading to this increase?

Possibly both?
posted by grouse at 8:55 AM on June 16, 2005


> Wow. This is horrifying.

I think that's precisely the sort of reason that the various epidemiologists and specialists working on the problem tend towards discretion on the issue. Because, as OmieWise points out, there are a growing number of people who, for whatever reason, can't deal with the fact that some kids just get sick and we don't know why, and they need someone or something to blame. Meanwhile, by pumping out these scare stories, concerned parents, believing that it's better to err on the side of safety, avoid having their kids vaccinated thus opening the door to various real epidemic diseases that we once thought were over and done with.


> All I can think of is if my 18 month old baby got thimerosal
> or not.

I really wouldn't worry about it. All my children were vaccinated during the relevant period. None of them are autistic. And they didn't get measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diptheria or smallpox either.

> This is so predictable of the government...rather than
> protect the babies, protect the companies.

Sorry, but I just don't buy it. Call me naive if you like, but I don't buy the notion hundreds of people who have devoted their lives to science and medicine -- both fields that thrive on openness and peer review -- are deliberately risking their careers and reputations by entering into a conspiracy to decieve the public and deliberately put children at risk.

There are enough things out there to really warrant my donning the tinfoil hat without wearing it over this issue. My feeling is that if this article hadn't had the name Kennedy attached to it, it wouldn't have seen the light of day in any reputable publication.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:04 AM on June 16, 2005


It was used as a preservative to keep microorganisms from growing in the vaccine stocks. Because while some people talk about how there might be a danger (although likely not) due to thimerosal in the vaccines, there is definitely a danger to the patient if those stocks have infectious bacteria growing in them. Or if they don't get vaccinated at all.

Look. It's a cost-benefit analysis on the part of drug manufacturers. There's no conspiracy. But that isn't to say it is healthy for children and adults. Drug manufacturers want to make and ship the vaccines in multidose vials because it is more cost-effective for them. Single dose vials do not require a preservative such as ethylmercury.

Some WHO members may have their hearts in the right place...they really don't want to scare people away from vaccines for fear of creating the conditions conducive to a serious pandemic. But to use ethylmercury in anything given to children? Not my kid.

To get more insight into the workings of WHO, disease control, politics, economics, drug companies and related power struggles, read "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder, a thoughtful and interesting book about the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, infectious-disease specialist and head of Partners In Health.

And, I don't buy the "better diagnosis methods for autism" line...as Kennedy mentions in the article, if Iowa saw a 700 percent increase in autism in the 1990s, right after more and more vaccines were added to the children's vaccine schedules, where is the corresponding 700 percent increase in the diagnosis of 20-30 year old autistics?
posted by jeanmari at 9:25 AM on June 16, 2005


Grouse, do you know what they use as a preservative now?
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2005


To get more insight . . . read "Mountains Beyond Mountains"

Because, Lord knows, if we started throwing vaccinations out instead of putting perservatives in them, Haiti would be first on the list for a fresh skid of inncoulations.
posted by yerfatma at 9:30 AM on June 16, 2005


where is the corresponding 700 percent increase in the diagnosis of 20-30 year old autistics?

Makes sense that young developing brains would be more suseptible to damage from ethylmercury than older people.
posted by dr_dank at 9:31 AM on June 16, 2005


I won't watch ads to get a Salon "day pass" so I didn't read the whole piece, but I assume this is just a cynical attempt to whip up the roundly-discredited MMR/autism paranoia again? If so: nauseating.
posted by Decani at 9:32 AM on June 16, 2005


Another factor that may be contributing to the increase in the incidence of autism in high-tech communities is genetics. My 2001 article for Wired, The Geek Syndrome, lays out a lot of useful background for this hypothesis. Note: my hypothesis does not refute the notion that thimoseral, or any other environmental factor, may also contribute to a rise in autism; both hypotheses can co-exist, and my article does not address the vaccine issue.

In addition, this is a letter to Salon from Kathleen Seidel, the creator of one of the best sources of in-depth information about autism and other ways of "thinking different," Neurodiversity. Seidel has given me permission to republish it here.


To the Editors:

RFK Jr. is justified in his concern about mercury toxicity. However, he does a disservice to autistic citizens by relying on an insular circle of informants directly involved in a well-funded PR campaign designed not only to convince the world that thimerosal should be removed from vaccines administered to children and pregnant women, but also that most autistic people are "victims of poisoning" and in need of detoxification procedures. Many participants in this campaign have either a financial interest or emotional investment in public acceptance of this highly debatable assertion, and no fewer "conflicts of interest" than anyone else.

There are many whose lives are affected by autism whose experience includes evidence that autistic traits run in families, and no evidence of vaccine damage. Many have also have recognized their own autism in adulthood. While some have been diagnosed, others have no need for professional evaluation, yet benefit from understanding how their life experience has been shaped by their autism. Autistic cognitive differences persist over the lifespan, into maturity, even after resolution of health problems that may significantly impair a person's functioning.

Kennedy quotes Boyd Haley's oft-repeated sound-bite, "If the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis, then where are all the 20-year-old autistics?" In fact, Professor Haley knows that there are plenty out there, but acknowledging their existence or the legitimacy of their claims that they're just as autistic as the children he has met would contradict his misconception that autism did not even exist before major vaccination programs. He corresponded with many autistic adults after I initiated The Petition to Defend the Dignity of Autistic Citizens, protesting his coinage and use of sensationalistic terms to describe autism. The petition bears 677 signatures from autistic citizens, families, friends, researchers, service providers, and others from around the world. It remains online and continues to gain signatures from those who disagree with his rationalization that degrading descriptions of autistic children are appropriate to employ in order to raise public awareness about the dangers of mercury.

It is disrespectful to automatically discredit those who seek to discuss disability issues publicly, but who are unwilling to participate in games of medical show-and-tell, or to publicly portray their lives in devastating terms, or to agree that they or their family members are poisoned and in need of detoxification. Nonetheless, autistic citizens who dispute the conclusions and tactics of autism=poisoning crusaders are commonly met with demands to produce diagnostic documentation, accusations that they are "pseudo-autistics," and outright contempt. Dissenting parents have been called "in denial," "clueless," "ignorant," and other such insults. I have had a complete stranger offer to pay for hair tests for my children in order to disprove his suspicions that they are somehow "toxic," simply because I publicly stated my concerns in an open letter published here. This letter documents the nasty side of the autism=poisoning PR juggernaut, a side of which Mr. Kennedy must either be unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge.

Sincerely,
Kathleen Seidel
posted by digaman at 9:33 AM on June 16, 2005


I've been very skeptical of a link between autism and vaccines, and even if there was some correlation, I generally feel the risk (to my son) of acquiring certain diseases without vaccination is greater than the risk of autism.

However, this article makes me glad my son lived in Japan from 6 mos. old to 3-1/2. At least a larger percentage of his vaccinations were mercury free.

I agree that there is a big potential for conspiracy theorizing here, but the behavior of the government and the pharma companies does nothing to reassure me.

I had the EPA telling me the air at ground zero (close to my home) was safe, when they didn't know one way or the other. My father (who should know better, since he was part of the pharma marketing machine for a while) was prescribed Vioxx. Congressmen are writing protective legislation for pharma companies. There have been numerous scandals and cover-ups all over the place recently.

It is enough to make any parent nervous.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:44 AM on June 16, 2005


If anyone's interested, law blogger Dwight Meredith wrote a remarkable and heartbreaking series on his experience with an autistic child and the Thimerosal controversy. You can read it here.
posted by maryh at 9:47 AM on June 16, 2005


The cure!
posted by caddis at 9:49 AM on June 16, 2005


Because, Lord knows, if we started throwing vaccinations out instead of putting perservatives in them, Haiti would be first on the list for a fresh skid of inncoulations.

Are those the only two solutions? I don't think so. That's all I'm saying.
posted by jeanmari at 9:49 AM on June 16, 2005


Disclaimer: IANAD, and I don't have a child or relative with autism. I do have a friend with an autistic child. He pointed out to me years ago his frustration with a press that treats autism as if it were rubella or chicken-pox: one certain, verifiable pathogen that could be studied and cured.

But in reality, "autism" is an umbrella term for five distinct but possibly related neurological disorders, a "complex developmental disability." One of the five strands is PDD-NOS; Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.

My uneducated guess is that as diagnosis gets more finely tuned, there are more cases of these 5 disorders (Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome/Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Disorder, and PDD-NOS).

I am in my fifties: when I studied language development in children in the 1970s, a diagnosis of autism was rare. My friends daughter is what some call "high functioning"--in fact, if you were to interact with her in most cases, you wouldn't notice any difference between her and other children. But serve her food in an order or presentation that she is unused to and she will present symptoms like a 10 year old "Rain Man."
posted by beelzbubba at 9:49 AM on June 16, 2005


But considering the devastation this disease can do, it seems callous and unnecessary to blow off concerned parents as crackpots who are "anti-science."

Why does the devastation enter into it? If you rail against what scientific evidence tells you, you're anti-science. Whether you're into vaccine-autism linkages or creationism doesn't make you any less anti-science.

Spend some time caring for an autistic 12 year old, and wondering what will happen to them if you die first, and then maybe you'll understand the urgency these parents feel.

The urgency you feel doesn't make you a scientist. Training, discipline, and the willingness to abide by what the data tell you make a scientist.

there was a Get Out of Jail Free card in the Homeland Security Act specifically exempting companies from lawsuits over thimerosal

In this case, that wouldn't necssarily be a bad thing, even if that's what the law had done (it wasn't). When all the scientific evidence points one way, but the subject is touchy enough that juries full of common morons like you and me will want to award money to the suffering families, it makes some sense to do something to make sure that we listen to the science. The law didn't create an lawsuit-proof vest; it only fixed the jurisdiction for cases involving vaccine thimerosal to a single court.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:53 AM on June 16, 2005


Introducing "anti-vaccine" arguments are just a red herring. It is not "anti-vaccine" to want vaccines that are as safe as possible.

Studies and reports should be open and let the chips fall where they may. If a report comes out that margarine causes brain damage, it may cause a sensation. But you look at who funded it and why. You look at the quality of the science and look for evidence of confirmation bias (and other cognitive biases) in the study. You attempt to reproduce the results or do further studies to either confirm or deny the earlier ones. What you don't do, if you are truly interested in people believing any future reports on an issue is convene a secret enclave and embargo information because you are concerned about how people will react to the information or how it will affect drug company profits. That approach throws into question the reliability of any report that you issue on the topic after that. To not be skeptical in the face of such information is indefensible. Don't confuse critical thinking with fear mongering or "tin foil hat wearers".
posted by spock at 9:58 AM on June 16, 2005


I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration , Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:00 AM on June 16, 2005


donfactor is right ON (and much more succinct than I am). Sorry I did not see that comment sooner.
posted by spock at 10:03 AM on June 16, 2005


Drug manufacturers want to make and ship the vaccines in multidose vials because it is more cost-effective for them. Single dose vials do not require a preservative such as ethylmercury.

Given that vaccines are among the medical products with the lowest profit margins (ie, sold at a price that almost exactly matches the cost to produce it) and the highest liability risks (see this whole discussion), any increase in the cost of production would likely be passed onto consumers (new parents) or the government (new subsidies). Saving money isn' t a sufficient justification for putting potentially dangerous substances into drugs, but let's frame the debate correctly. Vaccine manufacturers used a particular preservative to prevent bacterial growth in the vaccine supply. Switching to single-dose vials (I haven't heard that this would eliminate the need for preservatives) or using a different preservative would either increase costs of production (thus increasing price and decreasing complaince), increase the risk of bacterial growth, or other side-effects.

I don't want to say that we shouldn't discuss this sort of thing, as it is very important. But it is also very important that we don't sensationalize this type of issue and make people irrationally choose not to get their children vaccinated. That would have a huge negative impact on the children themselves, as well as other children who will be at greater risk of coming in contact with an infected playmate. Remember that vaccines are not only good for the individual, but critical to others living in the same community. To wipe out the huge strides that have been made in childhood immunization by over-sensationalizing a study that has been widely questioned would be foolish and literally kill hundreds (if not thousands) of children.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:16 AM on June 16, 2005


All I can think of is if my 18 month old baby got thimerosal or not. -aacheson

Well, according to an earlier referenced Washington Times article, thimerosal has been phased out of use in US childhood vaccines starting in 1999. So since your baby is less than two years old, it's not very likely that s/he got this ingredient in the vaccinations they'e recieved.
posted by raedyn at 10:17 AM on June 16, 2005


delfuego, as a board-certified pediatrician and science researcher, how do you feel about the CDC convening the group it did, to embargo the information it did, with the concerns for drug company profits that were expressed there? Do you approve of that?

I agree with being skeptical of sources, but in this case the most damning information isn't from Salon or someone's opinion, but the evidence of how that information was handled by the CDC, as obtained by the Freedom of Information Act. Online sources broke the first reports of SARS to the world while China was attempting a coverup. It is those who are covering up that deserve your skepticism - not those who bring the cover-up into the light.
posted by spock at 10:17 AM on June 16, 2005


I really wouldn't worry about it. All my children were vaccinated during the relevant period. None of them are autistic. And they didn't get measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria or smallpox either.

Well thanks, that's certainly scientific (and unless they're in their 30's, it's unlikely they received smallpox vaccinations).

I think what I dislike about this whole debate is the extreme polarity. We parents who raise questions about the ingredients of the things we're injecting into our children are often viewed as anti-vaccination zealots, and while they exist, most of us simply want our children to have vaccines without mercury in them, a reasonable request in my view.

It seems to me that: a. We've had a dramatic upswing in cases of autism that can't completely be explained by more aggressive diagnosis. b. That while Thimerasol has been used as a preservative since the 1930's, children were not given vaccines as early and as aggressively until the late 80's, around the same time this increase in autism was detected. c. There seem to be methodology concerns with studies from both sides of the debate, and d., there is enough troubling behavior on the part of the CDC and other government agencies (as spock eloquently points out) to warrant continued vigilance and study on this issue.

I think the letter by Ms. Seidel raises some pertinent points about the causes of autism and the biases of the anti-thimerasol crowd, but don't ever try and tell me it's somehow unfathomable that the pharmaceutical industry is above allowing patient harm to maximize profits.
posted by jalexei at 10:17 AM on June 16, 2005


spock writes "Studies and reports should be open and let the chips fall where they may."

But spock, you're confusing the closed meeting (and the conspiracy it may represent) with a lack of scientific evidence. The evidence is in, it is open, the chips have fallen-there is no link between autism and vaccinations. Move on. If you're really so concerned about finding the cause, then go looking for it elsewhere. I'm certainly not suggesting that there is no cause, I'm just saying that by your own criteria, the studies prove the cause is not vaccines.

The phrase I did not use in my earier post was "over-valued idea,"* which describes the insistence on vaccines as the cause of autism among parents of autistic children. The issue is not that such parents are crack-pots, or that they are looking for a cause, it's that they are fixated on something that has been proved to not be the cause. That seems disturbing to me because it demonstrates not only a lack of critical thinking, but also a failure to address all of the issues raised by parenting an autistic kid.

*An overvalued idea has three characteristics: (1) it is a self-dominating but not idiosyncratic opinion, given great importance by (2) intense emotional feelings over its significance, and evoking (3) persistent behavior in its service The definition is by Paul McHugh, there is no anchor on the page, so search it for the cite.
posted by OmieWise at 10:20 AM on June 16, 2005


"thimerosal has been phased out of use in US childhood vaccines starting in 1999. So since your baby is less than two years old, it's not very likely that s/he got this ingredient in the vaccinations they'e recieved.


Your optimism may be misplaced, raedyn: "The push to remove thimerosal was purely voluntary, and no vaccines were recalled, which means they are still being administered in many offices because they do not expire until late this year."(2005)
posted by spock at 10:23 AM on June 16, 2005


jalexei writes "but don't ever try and tell me it's somehow unfathomable that the pharmaceutical industry is above allowing patient harm to maximize profits."

I agree, there is plenty to pay attention to, and any good parent will be paying attention to those things. This concern about Big Pharma, which I share by the way, is a separate issue from the autism-vaccine link. That has been proved to be without basis. It's too easy to talk about all of the unknown scary things that our children are exposed to and then make what seems like a logical step, but is really simply a false syllogism, to autism etc. Which is precisely the reason why critical thinking and not conspiracy theories are in order.
posted by OmieWise at 10:24 AM on June 16, 2005


So why are they phasing out something that they maintain is safe? Purely coincidental, I'm sure. It looks like the main thing they are taking pains to avoid is the admission of knowledge of a potential problem (liability concerns). Deniability is the most important asset in a corporation's arsenal. If it is so safe, then why discontinue it at all?

When liability concerns trump health concerns in the very agency that is supposed to be the watchdog of the public health, (CDC) we are in trouble, friends. When we refuse to acknowledge that we are in trouble, Game Over.
posted by spock at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2005


What jeanmari and spock said.

Enough of the "well-meaning scientists". Cost-effectiveness is enough of a reason when those scientists work for a major pharmaceutical.
posted by dreamsign at 10:29 AM on June 16, 2005


Which is precisely the reason why critical thinking and not conspiracy theories are in order.
Hey, let's not let rationality get in the way of anti-KKKorporate axegrinding here.
posted by darukaru at 10:30 AM on June 16, 2005


My son is autistic, and I am extremely skeptical of any link between vaccines and autism. All of the most recent research points to a strong genetic link, and my gut feeling is that at some point research will show that there is some environmental factor that is benign to most people but very damaging to someone with the genetic predisposition for autism. By extension, that means that I don't really expect there to ever be a "cure" for my son, only a better means of screening for and preventing autism in the future. The real problem right now is that autism is diagnosed entirely through symptoms; there is not an kind of test you can take (blood test, genetic test, etc.) where a doctor can point to something and say "that's autism". I think the research is getting closer to that point, particularly with all of the genome sequencing happening right now. And beelzbubba is correct, autism is a spectrum disorder and everything under that spectrum may or may not have a common root - it's just a group of disorders that have symptoms that fall inside the same continuum.
posted by Lokheed at 10:32 AM on June 16, 2005


I'm in agreement with DonFactor here as well, the industry saw what could have serious long term repercusions and then spent the next period of time figuring out how to cover it up? Sorry, that's fucking criminal and they should be prosecuted for not alerting the public to a serious risk.

Whether or not thimerasol is the cause of autism or a cause is tangental to the culture of cover-ups and fact-monkeying that results in a populance being exposed to unnecessary danger.

The executives should be held personally culpable for trying to bury bad news. Its not their fault that there was bad news but they certainly took a willfull stance to try and keep the information from the people who needed to know it.
posted by fenriq at 10:32 AM on June 16, 2005


You know the most stunning thing about this story? The sheer lack of quotations or any indication that the author tried to get the so-called conspirators' side of the story before passing judgment. Even the missing phrase "refused to comment" would have indicated some attempt to allow these evil, evil people to redeem themselves.

It's almost as if the author of the story were afraid that the truth would get out.
posted by grouse at 10:38 AM on June 16, 2005


But it is also very important that we don't sensationalize this type of issue and make people irrationally choose not to get their children vaccinated. >snip<

I agree with you, but it is not an either/or proposition. What is wrong with parents being INFORMED consumers ? If there are two vaccines available and one is mercury/thimerosal-free, should not the parent have the knowledge and the choice? Don't confuse education with sensationalizing.

How many of us had even heard of thimerosal before this post or the Salon article?
posted by spock at 10:39 AM on June 16, 2005


All of the most recent research points to a strong genetic link, and my gut feeling is that at some point research will show that there is some environmental factor that is benign to most people but very damaging to someone with the genetic predisposition for autism.

For what it's worth, that's my guess too.

Best of luck to you and your son, Lokheed.
posted by digaman at 10:43 AM on June 16, 2005


This is one of many vaccine scares that most parents know at least something about. This is an old story that was proved bogus a long, long time ago.
posted by glenwood at 10:45 AM on June 16, 2005


How many of us had even heard of thimerosal before this post or the Salon article?

*raises hand*
posted by grouse at 10:46 AM on June 16, 2005


All of the most recent research points to a strong genetic link >snip<.

This is certainly possible, but that does not rule out an enviromental component. You may have two people with a predisposition to a particular cancer (for example), but only the one who comes in contact with a carcinogen might develop the cancer.

Recognizing genetic links does not rule out other factors being part of the problem.
posted by spock at 10:49 AM on June 16, 2005


How many of us had even heard of thimerosal before this post or the Salon article?

*raises hand*

The issue was covered by the mainstream media (NYTimes, WashPost, BBC, CNN, etc.,) in the late 90's when the first studies came out and concerns were raised. The media followed up, too -- reporting on the FDA's campaign to have the ingredient removed from vaccines. In '03 there were stories that the FDA had been mostly successful.

Anyone who cared about the possibility that the vaccines designed to protect their kids from disease might actually be poisoning them no doubt paid attention.
posted by zarq at 10:53 AM on June 16, 2005


Thimerasol is the new thalidomide.
posted by fenriq at 10:55 AM on June 16, 2005


Check that, thimerasol could be the new thalidomide.
posted by fenriq at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2005


spock, I think that any attempt by the CDC, or by any scientific organization, to cover up study results is wrong; that much isn't part of my debate. My debate is that RFK Jr. used that meeting as the launching pad for a much broader argument, not that the government scientific bodies should be more open but rather that thimerosal and vaccination are dangerous. That's a disingenuous bait-and-switch -- get people to agree to the obvious (that covering up data is bad), and then use the momentum of that outrage to get people onboard with a notion that's just not supported by the much larger body of evidence.
posted by delfuego at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2005


A thanks to DocGonzo, Omniewise, and ROU-Xenophobe and others for taking the time to debunk this claptrap.
posted by LarryC at 11:09 AM on June 16, 2005


So why are they phasing out something that they maintain is safe? Purely coincidental, I'm sure.

So GM phased out the Oldsmobile because they were trying to cover-up safety concerns? Or is it just possible that in the last 10 years something has made a different product packaging make sense (ie, cheaper single-use vials if that solves the problem, a better anti-microbial, different pricing structures, etc)? Change doesn't imply that something was being eliminated because it was dangerous.

I agree with you, but it is not an either/or proposition. What is wrong with parents being INFORMED consumers ? If there are two vaccines available and one is mercury/thimerosal-free, should not the parent have the knowledge and the choice? Don't confuse education with sensationalizing.

I agree, but it seems that some people in the thread have fallen for the sensationalist bait and exactly proven the danger that I spoke about. MeFi is a place filled with reasonably intelligent people and we still have some gems of people getting sensationalistic and over-construing the data ("fucking criminal and they should be prosecuted for not alerting the public to a serious risk.").

And, as several people pointed out, this is hardly a new issue. There have been at least two other waves of this story, and I think at least one other MeFi FPP (but I can't find it at the moment).
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2005


And thank you LarryC, for what could very well be a severe case of confirmation bias. (None of us is completely immune to that however).

Frankly, it is the people who use labels and denegrating language that raise my suspicions. The dismissing of issues out-of-hand as "paranoiac bullshit", "claptrap", "conspiracy theories", and "tin foil hat wearers" has no place in a reasoned discussion and says much more about the commenter than it does about the validity of their position.
posted by spock at 11:19 AM on June 16, 2005


Spock: Can you ignore the way the original report was dealt with with your application of the "conspiracy theory" label. It sounds like it meets the very definition of conspiracy to me.

Precisely. If there is *nothing* to hide, then why in the name of all that is holy, are they treating it like it's the keys to the DeathStar?

Drug manufacturers want to make and ship the vaccines in multidose vials because it is more cost-effective for them. Single dose vials do not require a preservative such as ethylmercury.

I was able to order single dose vials for my son's vaccines. We used no multidose vaccines at all. Our pediatrician said that if I could find enough families that wanted it, then he would order them (I'm assuming there was a minimum order mandated by the pharma distributor)...and I did, and he did, and all our kids got vaccinated (including the pediatrician's) and none of our kids got anything including mercury or thimerosal. I asked for and read the package inserts of everything they wanted to put in my son.)

And of the families I convinced to go this route, almost all of them had been considering *not* vaccinating their children at all...because they didn't know nonthimerosal versions are available.
posted by dejah420 at 11:20 AM on June 16, 2005


spock: If it is so safe, then why discontinue it at all?

This is a logical fallacy.
posted by event at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2005


I can't find the FPP I'm thinking of, but this same issue was discussed back in this FPP about autism in general - further suggesting that those who are concerned (ie, parents) already knew about the issue.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:23 AM on June 16, 2005


My wife (PhD, Child Language Development) regularly evaluates children for autism with a team of pediatricians, child psychologhists and other child development specialists. Many times she has told me that the all credible research says that vaccines are not linked to autism. (BTW, we've confidently had our nearly-2-year-old daughter innoculated).

On preview: thanks for digging up that thread tddl. I knew this already had been discussed here.
posted by turbodog at 11:34 AM on June 16, 2005


Yes, event, by ITSELF it is a logical fallacy. But when you combine it's discontinuation with the dates of the controversial study and it's (now revealed) cover-up (including the concerns voiced over liability and drug companies bottom lines) it is a more-than-reasonable possiblity to consider.

Another (unrelated) example from events that took place yesterday on the Stormtrack Forum. A member clearly downloaded other storm chaser's web graphics and claimed them as his own (cropping out their copyright notices, etc.). He even stole the code for his web page (leaving the original author's copyright comment code intact). When the doo-doo hit the fan he started removing images, while admitting no wrong-doing.

One could allow for the possibility that he simply felt it was time to remove the pictures. But in the face of the other events and the timing, it is much more likely that there was a connection. It would be a logical fallacy to ignore that corraborating evidence. Same deal here.

Pulling one line out of context and isolating it to label it a logical fallacy, is itself a logical fallacy.
posted by spock at 11:40 AM on June 16, 2005


And of the families I convinced to go this route, almost all of them had been considering *not* vaccinating their children at all...because they didn't know nonthimerosal versions are available.

Doesn't that make a pretty good argument for keeping these unsupported theories quiet? They have been proven false, and yet they continue to endanger children.
posted by belling at 11:45 AM on June 16, 2005


spock: If it is so safe, then why discontinue it at all?

Sorry to add another, but perhaps the pharmas are responding to (mistaken?) consumer demands?

posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:47 AM on June 16, 2005


If there's nothing to the link to thimersosal, then why was the meeting so hush-hush? Why all the cover-up?
posted by aacheson at 12:17 PM on June 16, 2005


If there's nothing to the link to thimersosal, then why was the meeting so hush-hush? Why all the cover-up?

Maybe so that people can speak frankly without their quotes being taken out-of-context and used against them? If somebody stood up and asked "Is there evidence of a link?" and the speaker responded "One study says yes, and 500 studies say no" then the headline would be "DRUG EXECS ADMIT STUDY LINKS MERCURY TO AUTISM".

Do you ever have conversations that you want to keep private, even if you're not hiding anything?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:19 PM on June 16, 2005


Even if thimersosal is the safest substance known to man, (and every study from now until forever concludes that) it is the CDC response to the original alarming study that is the problem.

Everybody concerned only about whether thimersosal is in fact a problem are missing the forest for the trees. How many other significantly alarming studies have been tabled or surpressed in a similar way? (Yes, that's begging the question. It doesn't prove that any have. But you would have to be a fool not to wonder - not to ask.) And that's what makes this sort of behavior so alarming. Not alarmed at thimersosal. Not alarmed at vaccines. Alarmed at the CDC. Alarmed at the process. It is their credibility that they are toying with.
posted by spock at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2005


Thanks to docgonzo, grouse, et al for the necessary debunking.
posted by blendor at 12:28 PM on June 16, 2005


aacheson writes "
If there's nothing to the link to thimersosal, then why was the meeting so hush-hush? Why all the cover-up?"


This is the sloppiest reasoning I've ever heard in my life. Alright, it's not that sloppy, but come on. The evidence says there is no link, keeping the meeting hush hush does not change that.

spock writes "Frankly, it is the people who use labels and denegrating language that raise my suspicions."

Does this mean you think that all of the people in this thread disagreeing with your stridently unargued position are part of this vast conspiracy?

On preview--Spock, this is what I've maintained all along. If you want to be taken seriously then you need to let go of the disproved theory of the etiology of autism that links it to vaccines.
posted by OmieWise at 12:30 PM on June 16, 2005


fenriq: Check that, thimerasol could be the new thalidomide.

Not quite; thalidomide's problem was that it was racemic - one of the enantiomers was harmless, the other deadly. Thimerosal is enantomerically pure. As far as its toxicity, the studies cited in grouse's link determined that ethylmercury did not reach toxic levels in the blood.
posted by blendor at 12:42 PM on June 16, 2005


I'll not argue whether or not there is a thimerosal-autism link, but I will say that there was definitely a conspiracy.

A rather 'patriarchal' conspiracy to handle scientific data in a closed manner instead of with full transparency. I'll give the scientists enough credit to contend that they believed they were acting to protect public health rather than from any profit motive (the anti-vaccine crowd would have jumped all over this, and the CDC justifiably sees a pandemic around every corner). However, this is a classic PR mistake. The truth will always out, and it looks much worse when you try and hide it rather than exposing it under the hot light of day (hopefully to prove it's the ghost you think it is).

It's the sort of classic PR mistake that I expect to bite the republicans on the ass over the next 20 some years. Just like it's biting the various churches who covered up molestation scandals instead of hiring a PR firm and saying mea culpa.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:45 PM on June 16, 2005


Even if thimersosal is the safest substance known to man, (and every study from now until forever concludes that) it is the CDC response to the original alarming study that is the problem.

Perhaps, spock, perhaps. But the only information I have about this meeting was provided by an op-ed which does absolutely nothing to present its quotes in context or give the alleged conspirators an opportunity to confront the allegations against them. If it were as cut-and-dry as you and the original author suggest, then all we would see disingenuous defenses and refusals to comment. The author could have made a much stronger and more convincing argument.

But RFK Jr. chose only to present a narrow view of the story that leads directly to his conclusions. If he was as fair in presenting the facts of the meeting as he was in presenting the scientific record, then we'd be making big mistakes in passing any sort of judgment.
posted by grouse at 12:47 PM on June 16, 2005


"If the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis, then where are all the 20-year-old autistics?"

Boyd Haley trots out this silliness to support an "autism epidemic" -- one that never happened. There has been no autism epidemic, or even a "vast increase" if you choose to define "epidemic" as a purely contagion based process.

It's unfortunate that a small group of parents have "poisoned the well" so to speak so that some things are taken as fact, when they are not in evidence at all--not proven--not facts.

It will take a while to acquaint yourself with the science behind autism. If you get the science under your belt the whole thimerosal thing starts too look next to impossible.
It takes time to digest stuff like this free lecture by famous researcher Dr. Eric Fombonne

The legitimate researchers don't trot out the moms who have been swindled by charlatans selling autism treatments to prove that autism isn't caused by mercury, they don't trot out the parents who were obviously autistic themselves as children,

but the charlatans trot out stories about kids who regressed after a vaccination- an hour, a day, a week, several weeks after the vaccination.
Of course there are parents who have such a story.

Point being: if you are going to vaccinate all 18 month olds in the United States, a certain number will be regressing right after a vaccination, even if you "vaccinate" them with sterile saline. The ones who say that a vaccine caused their child to regress don't have any stats on how soon it should happen to indicated that it actually WAS the vaccine. Some will say, "look, my child regressed the same day" "proving" that the stuff acts immediately, right? And others will say, "look, my child regressed a week later", "proving" that it acts more slowly right? Few people ask, how can you know it was the vaccine? If out of the thousands of kids who get vaccinated 10 of them regress within 1 or 2 weeks, and all of those 10 go online and start to tell their story, then soon lots of people will have a similar story. This isn't a conspiracy, it is the way human minds work. Add the incentive of money from lawsuits and it all becomes very messy.

The best example of people whose children were actually harmed by an autism "curer".

Rashid Buttar is selling a cure, he says it can totally cure autistic kids, because autism is purely, 100%, absolutely, always mercury poisoning.

He sells, transdermal DMPS aka 2,3 dimercapto propane sulfonate. He sells it with his own emotional tear laden description (we cried oceans of tears, now cough up the money for the lotion) http://www.tddmps.com/successstory/
He has NO research published in peer reviewed journals, and Dr. Laidler, who has really worked with REAL mercury poisoned people and has genuine autism spectrum kids, and who really understands science and isn't selling anything... says that there is no reason to believe that the DMPS is actually crossing the skin, therefor no mercury is being chelated, even if its in the kid.
The whole chelation thing is half of the "proof" that thimerosal causes autism, but it's bunk.


You have to take the time to read what Dr. Laidler says about his experience with the Defeat Autism Now! group, though he doesn't name them in his article called "Through the Looking Glass..."
At this point the typical response is, "but you don't understand my child had outrageous mercury levels in the labs that came back from Doctor's Data." Warning: #1 folks want to answer fact with emotion and attack the fact deliverer as cold hearted. #2 Doctor's Data among other mail order labs have a poor history. They obviously make more money off of people who are convinced that they are mercury poisoned, because the people are caught in a trap of avoiding mainstream doctors and using this mail order business to send in urine, hair and feces samples. If you go to the Doctor's Data site you will see they are pretty private about what they charge, etc, they want to converse with your first before they tell you what you want to know.

Dr. Laidler sent fake urine to Doctor's Data with mercury free ingredients, sent in the cups provided by DD. He split the fake urine batch into 2 samples and got back a report showing 2 different mercury levels. The mercury may have been in the cups, which need to be specially prepared if one is going to use them to test for mercury. These cups were not prepared or DD makes up numbers, or their machines are off kilter.

This has nothing to do with the Simpsonwood debacle of course, it's just that if those guys thought that mercury was causing an autism epidemic, they were wrong. I don't know if the extra thimerosal killed some brain cells in babies or not, or if it damaged their kidneys (seems much more likely)... but mercury doesn't cause autism in babies.

It can cause autism if a beensy tiny embryo gets exposed to too much. We all are exposed to mercury, so how much is too much? I don't know. But the exposure must be at like 20 days after fertilization. Most women don't know they are pregnant yet then.

But then a person would have to know embryology to understand that, and obviously Mr. Kennedy does not.

I can debunk the mercury-autism theory step by step but it take a long time. In the end I can't say that no even one child has ever become autistic from a vaccine, it's just very unlikely, and it didn't happen thousands of times over as the Kennedy article and Lujene Clark would have you believe.
Lujene who attacked blogger Kevin Leitch, you can read that in Kathleen Seidel's "evidence of venom" letter on neurodiversity.com.

I sugges you spend a half hour on neurodiversity.com if you need convincing that autism has been around forever at current levels, too.



Rolling stone has the Kennedy article, so you can read the whole thing without joining Salon.com, in case you aren't a member there.


I'm angry Kennedy for stirring up this garbage, it's like he wants an emotional catharsis or something. His aunt Rosemarie could have been mildly autistic, she could write, but she acted oddly. Her father had her lobotomized and destroyed her, though he probably didn't know she would be destroyed by it. She just died in January, makes me wonder if that is connected to this, maybe it isn't.

Still, Kennedy seems to be saying, "Look at the guilt, the guilt oh the guilt, such guilt we have."

Kennedy didn't talk to the real scientists, though so he doesn't know if guilt is appropriate. I don't think there is evidence that kids were harmed by the extra mercury, though they certainly should have been more careful with the stuff.

Autism Diva
posted by autismdiva at 12:55 PM on June 16, 2005


Autism Diva=Kathleen Seidel ?
posted by OmieWise at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2005


So GM phased out the Oldsmobile because they were trying to cover-up safety concerns?

Probably a bad comparison. GM shut down Olds because they couldn't sell them fast enough to keep it profitable, not to mention a shopping list of bad decisions on the part of the stakeholders in GM. They had to get rid of it because it was withering on the vine from neglect (they let their models get really stale, as well as poor marketing, hence the lagging sales) and their company as a whole had to shrink less they'd probably would have gone under.
posted by shawnj at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2005


Precisely. If there is *nothing* to hide, then why in the name of all that is holy, are they treating it like it's the keys to the DeathStar?

Maybe because there's something to hide.

Or maybe because bitter experience has shown that juries are entirely willing to give awards for medical problems with little or no scientific validity, and parents are entirely willing to endanger their children and the surrounding population to avoid nonexistent or negligible risks, and they don't want to fan the flames.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2005


This is my favorite line from the Salon/RS article:

In 1930, the company tested thimerosal by administering it to twenty-two patients with terminal meningitis, all of whom died within weeks of being injected -- a fact Lilly didn't bother to report in its study declaring thimerosal safe.

Aren't terminal menigitis patients patients who are dying of meningitis? Is there some other use of terminal here? This is precisely the kind of correlation=causality reasoning that poisons this debate.
posted by OmieWise at 1:24 PM on June 16, 2005


I learned about thimerosal here a few weeks ago.

At least one autistic kid is getting better after starting chelation (heavy metal detox) therapy. Since I hadn't heard of kids ever getting much better, it was intriguing. The article points points out that (despite the conflicting reports discussed here), there are no studies of attempts to treat autistic children for mercury poisoning yet.

I also thought we were done assuming that better diagnosis is responsible for the increasing number of cases--by this point, the numbers should have levelled off, if not decreased. In fact, the number of diagnosed children continues to rise at a startling rate.
posted by obloquy at 1:36 PM on June 16, 2005


Autism can be devastating for children and families, and we should be spending a lot of time and money investigating it. seriously.

Let's consider:

* Diphtheria is a very contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial disease.
* Diphtheria usually attacks the throat and nose. In more serious cases, it can attack the heart and nerves.
* Because of widespread immunization, diphtheria is very rare in the United States.
* Diphtheria is re-emerging in some areas of the world where immunization practices are lax. Routine vaccination of both children and adults is essential to prevent the re-emergence of diphtheria in the United States.


Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis (or B. pertussis). It's characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a "whooping" sound when the person breathes in. Before a vaccine was available, pertussis killed 5,000 to 10,000 people in the United States each year. Now, the pertussis vaccine has reduced the annual number of deaths to less than 30.

Although pertussis can occur at any age, it's most severe in unimmunized children and in infants under 1 year of age (early immunization can usually prevent this serious disease in babies). About 40% of all pertussis infections occur in children less than 1 year old, and only 15% occur in children over 15 years old. Half of all deaths from pertussis occur in infants under age 1, and serious complications are more common in this group.

The incidence of pertussis among adolescents and adults has been increasing in the last several years. This is an important fact, because coughing adolescents and adults who may not realize that they have pertussis are currently the major source of infection for infants and children.


* Tetanus is a condition that affects the nervous system and causes painful, uncontrolled muscle spasms.
* People get tetanus when spores of the tetanus bacteria enter the body through an open wound and produce a powerful nerve poison.
* Tetanus spores are found throughout the environment, usually in soil, dust, and animal waste.
* Tetanus is preventable through immunization. Because of widespread use of tetanus vaccine, the condition is now rare.
Tetanus is a major problem in developing countries where immunization of children is not required or enforced. In the United States, most states require tetanus immunization for entry to school. Cases average between 50 and 100 per year, mostly in under-immunized older adults.
Deaths from tetanus in Africa, S.E. Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific in 2002 @ 213,000. Deaths in US in 2002, under 100.

Neonatal tetanus, which was eliminated in the industrialised world as far back as the 1950s is still a major killer of infants in the developing world, responsible for no less than 200,000 infant deaths every year and accounting for 8 percent of all neonatal deaths.
posted by theora55 at 1:40 PM on June 16, 2005


OK, question for all the debunkers. Since we are apparantly certain thimersosal does not cause or contribute to autism, what does cause it? You must know, right?
posted by MetalDog at 1:46 PM on June 16, 2005


OmieWise:

Autism Diva is not as pretty as Kathleen Seidel. Kathleen Seidel's kids are younger and she's married. Autism Diva is an ancient (45 year old) divorcee who was married to a guy on the autism spectrum and who has an Asperger's diagnosis of her very own.

Autism Diva thinks she's really special and refers to herself in the 3rd person most of the time. Autism Diva is a university student, a senior, psych major.

Kathleen and Autism Diva each have one autism spectrum kid and one typical kid.

Autism Diva sleeps in her tiara, Kathleen keeps hers in a special velvet lined box next to her bed, so it's rumored.

We are acquaintances, but not the same person. :-)

Autism Diva is more into science and Kathleen is more into ethics, but we are both concerned with both.

Autism Diva
posted by autismdiva at 1:46 PM on June 16, 2005


Since we are apparantly certain thimersosal does not cause or contribute to autism, what does cause it?

It causes bacteria to not grow.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2005


It causes bacteria to not grow.

Sorry, read that exactly backward. I'm guessing that thimersosal might cause dyslexia based on how I read that sentence.

As shown above, we don't know. Just because we don't know doesn't mean we can't eliminate some candidates. We know that bread, love, television, cars, and hospitals don't cause autism either. The jury is still out on genetics, allergies, auto-immune issues, etc.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:01 PM on June 16, 2005


theora55, I really haven't seen anyone on this thread advocating skipping vaccinations (my 15-month old has had all her scheduled shots, and will continue to).

Doesn't mean we can't be concerned about this stuff, even if time proves the no-harm folks correct.
posted by jalexei at 2:07 PM on June 16, 2005


grouse heartily welcomes autismdiva to Metafilter and appreciates autismdiva's contributions and points out that we generally don't sign posts here because "posted by autismdiva" or the like appears immediately below our posts anyway.
posted by grouse at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2005


Autism Diva - if you do have the time, I'd appreciate the full logical debunking of the mercury-autism link, because I'm not convinced by what I've seen so far.

Not that I'm fully convinced by the Salon article, but there is a lot there to think about. Especially in the Merck memo where some back of the envelope calculations show that each vaccine is ~25 times the maximum daily mercury intake recommended for adults (adjusted for body weight). Since it is not known if adults have a greater or lesser ability to handle mercury than infants, it is hard to say if that is a damaging amount. But it is worrisome, especially considering that 8 vaccines are given in the first 6 months of life.

For some reason, I can't seem to access that article from grouse (even though I can access most other articles at 'Pediatrics'). But knowing that there was a conference in 2000 where it was allegedly decided that evidence against the mercury-autism link had to be produced, and that the CDC had a hand in that decision, I don't trust a 2004 paper from the CDC that says there is no link between mercury and autism.

As for Lokheed's hope that the sequenced genome will point to a genetic cause for autism, I highly doubt it. I haven't been involved with autism genetics since 1995, but a study (self-link) I was part of back then found that "Our results suggest that positional cloning of susceptibility loci by linkage analysis may be a formidable task and that other approaches may be necessary." Which is a soft way of saying "you can't find the genes using any tests we've developed so far." Which is a soft way of saying "We have no f#@!ing clue where the genes are, but we don't think anyone else can do any better."

In fact, I suspect that the genetic component of autism has been overstated. With the autism rates we see in siblings vs non-siblings, and twins vs siblings, even in twins that were raised apart, you would expect only a few genes to be involved. But if that were the case, they would have been found by now. In fact, we were able to say with some confidence that it is unlikely that less tha 5 genes are involved, if it is indeed genetic. As it is, if you look back in the literature, you see paper after paper saying: We found it! It's on chromosome 15 - no, wait, chromosome 6 - no, we disproved those studies, it's chromosomes 1 and 4...and on and on and on. But since vaccines are generally given to siblings by the same doctors, and often at the same time (i.e. same vaccine batch), of course they will have more consistent autism rates than non-siblings. And twins separated at birth will be the same age, and so are likely to get the same general kind and number of vaccines, if not the same batch. And if they are given the Hep-B vaccine administered a few hours after birth, it probably will be the same batch. So a non-genetic (or partially genetic - e.g. predisposition to disease) cause related to vaccines could look more genetic than it is. Of course, a lot could have changed since I got out of that field. I haven't kept up with the literature, so it's possible that a lot of headway has been made that I don't know about. I hope so. All I know is that if thimerosal turns out to be the culprit, I'd like to see Merck sued for all the wasted time and money put into autism research.

Also, here is the study performed by the Geier's, who were the only ones to get access to the epidemiological data that the CDC hid in a private company.
posted by yentruoc at 2:25 PM on June 16, 2005


Don't mind me, I'm just basking in the glow of this delightful discussion.
posted by Floydd at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2005


Oops. should read 'I haven't been involved with autism genetics since 1999'
posted by yentruoc at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2005


MetalDog: what does cause it? You must know, right?

Are you being intentionally dense, or are you just spectacularly ill-educated? Knowing that something is NOT the case does not require knowing what IS the case.

My god, this entire so-called controversy is just more proof that Americans don't have enough actual threats to worry about, and have simply decided to invent dangers to occupy themselves with.
posted by aramaic at 2:47 PM on June 16, 2005


Anyone who claims that it's obvious that there either is or is not an increase in the incidence of autism is bullshitting. The situation is not crystal clear in either direction. "Epidemic" is the wrong word to use, but that doesn't mean the numbers aren't increasing. Better diagnoses? Certainly. Enhanced public awareness? For sure.

But is there something else happening under those factors that is resulting in a true rise in incidence? Personally, I'm inclined to think that there is a rise that can't be accounted for by the other factors, having researched the subject in depth for a couple of months in 2001. But no one knows for sure.
posted by digaman at 2:55 PM on June 16, 2005


about theora55's preventable diseases list, also rubella if the mom is exposed to it early in the pregnancy like really early, when she might not know she's pregnant, the baby can have symptoms of autism.

metaldog: autism can have very different causes, technically you can say that there is "idiopathic autism" which means, they haven't yet identified the exact set of genes and possible environmental interactions that produced it, and genetic disorders that cause symptoms that are either identical or very close or somewhat close to "idiopathic autism", even some people who have had obvious brain damage can have symptoms of autism, but they aren't autistic per se.

When "autistics" are sampled at random, certain genes keep popping up at higher rates than are found in the general population. It is known to be the most heritable of mental disorders (or differences if you like). NAAR NAAR is both praised and villified as being corrupt. If the parents think all autism is all mercury all the time like JB Handley, the guy in the article from SF that obloquy cited, the NAAR is basically a tool of SATAN.

You have to go hand out with the parents who believe this to see that I'm not exaggerating.

Schizophrenia has a certain rate of occurence in relatives that tends to indicate it is inherited, autism's rate is much higher. There is no other developmental or mental disorder that seems to have such a high rate of heritablity.

As for "environmental" contributions. Not all monozygotic twins (identical) are both autistic if one is, but usually the other will have some autistic like traits (or one might seem to fit "autistic disorder" well and the other "Asperger's syndrome")

So why? They are both made of the exact same genes, both growing in the same uterus. Why is one more affected than the other? Whatever it is its a tiny difference that pushed the one to go the one way and the other the other way, right?

Once I heard an autism researcher say something about a twin being a "pancreas twin" and the other a "liver twin"... something strang like that, meaning that one was positioned closer to a particular organ, just named as a landark.

Maybe the blood flow differences in the placenta means 1 more molecule of a nutrient or toxin or something goes to one baby and not the other, I really have no explanation, but it can't be a huge difference can it?

Neurons sort of just take off and go in general directions when they are developing, the two brains of the twins are not identical, just as their fingerprints aren't identical.

It takes a long, long time to get a grip on all the shades of what autism is, and actually, I don't understand it half as well as Michelle Dawson, a woman with autism who is an autism researcher in Montreal. But I know I understand autism about 10 times better than Bobby Kennedy Jr. or Lujene Clark.

Since when does a kid become "Asperger's" suddenly at age eight? I'd love to talk to the kid's friends from kindergarten and their parents to see what her son was really like before he descended into the hell that is Asperger's syndrome. This is just ridiculous. I realize that if you say someone is crazy, that it could be a "ad hominem" attack, but come on, this is nowhere based in reality.
Please read the blog by Orac Knows (respectful insolence) and especially pay attention to what he has about the "Geiers". There's reason to suppress a giggle when Bobby Kennedy Jr cites them.

Lujene Clark comes across as someone who is totally impressed with her heroism. Some of this big names in this crowd are really quite odd. Go digging to see what they are saying on places like pro chelation Yahoo! groups and see for yourself.

You might want to check in on
the "good news doctor". He has god on his side to cure your child of autism with about 40 different pills and IV infusions and also hyperbaric oxygen.

A bunch of these mercury/autism promoters are claiming credentials that sound really good but are goofy or don't seem to be true, so heads up, don't be impressed if they say they are "fellows" of some organization or another. Go check thei organizations they claim to belong to. The "good news doctor" isn't board certified in any specialty (according to an organization you can access online, I can't remember it's name) his partner is a board certified pediatrician however, and is just as stupid in his claims.

Autism Diva





posted by autismdiva at 2:56 PM on June 16, 2005


yentruoc mentioned the Geiers, who are also mentioned in the JFK Jr. article. For those who would like to know a little more about the Geiers, I recommend reading this and this. Perhaps we should not be too quick to give these guys much uncritical credence.

By the way, I'm married to Kathleen Seidel (of neurodiversity.com), and no, she is not the same person as the Autism Diva. If you have any doubts, just compare their writing styles. That said, I am a big fan of the AD.
posted by DaveSeidel at 2:56 PM on June 16, 2005


Hell, let's all look at Kano; they decided polio vaccines were dangerous CIA/Jewish plots, and next thing you know their children start dying and they've spread disease to several formerly polio-free countries. But hey, they were just being careful, right? Because you never know what freaky chemicals the CIA put in your vaccines, and vaccines might be dangerous anyway.

It's better to be safe than sorry, so let's stop taking vaccines. The risk is just too great, and who's heard of anyone dying from pertussis? I don't even know what pertussis is, so it MUST be a smaller risk to my children than thimerosal, which some fruitcake on the internet says is dangerous!
posted by aramaic at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2005


And I am a huge fan of your wife's site, Dave. It's marvelous.
posted by digaman at 3:00 PM on June 16, 2005


Thanks, digaman! I enjoy your writing as well.

By the way, people should know that along with the more reasonble (or reasonable-seeming) side of the anti-vaccination world, there is quite a wacky fringe element who see vaccinations as just one more part of a vast web of sinister Illuminati conspiracies meant to enslave us all. For example, check out http://whale.to. But be warned that they actually go way beyond the merely wacky -- there are some seriously anti-Semitic writings on that site.

I mention this because bad science and bad reporting, as in the RFK Jr. article, will just encourage these nut cases.
posted by DaveSeidel at 3:17 PM on June 16, 2005


Autism Diva said: "When "autistics" are sampled at random, certain genes keep popping up at higher rates than are found in the general population."

That is false. Flat out absolutely not true. I don't even know how you can say that with a straight keyboard. People toss out genes to associate with autism all the time - WNT-2, Seratonin transporters, GABRB-3, FOXP2, SLC6A4, GRIN2A, CENTG2, UBE3-A - and on and on and on. As soon as somebody publishes a weak linkage, someone else publishes a paper disproving it. A nice article looked at regions on 10 chromosomes that had been reported for their possible involvement in autism, and found no clear evidence for involvemet of any of them. Then they go on to say, 'but we're sure the genes are out there somewhere' (paraphrasing, obviously). The genes have not been found. As far as I can tell, they are not even close to finding anything - grasping at straws is more like it. It is disingenuous to imply that a genetic explanation will soon be available. I am so, so, so glad I am not in that field anymore.


Also, aramaic, nobody here is saying stop with the vaccines. People are saying stop with the mercury in the vaccines. And since mercury-free vaccines are available, it's a perfectly reasonable stance.
posted by yentruoc at 3:23 PM on June 16, 2005


I apologize for not spell checking my posts better, the last one has some goofiness with a link, too. I won't sign my posts anymore. At least I didn't give you all the full "autism diva" treatment which includes a slogan with each signature, at no extra charge.

I overstated my ability to entirely debunk the autism=mercury poisoning, but what I have found is, someone says, "look at this study, it shows blah blah about thimerosal and mice" or substitute monkeys or epidemiology or whatever for "mice", and when I go look at it, there's no THERE there. And my opinion is backed up (or led by) real doctors and real chemists

The gene stuff is being helped along by AGRE which is associated with Cure Autism Now. You can go to the UCD MIND institute's website and watch experts discuss the reason they are chasing certain genes, some of them have more evidence than others that a certain group of autistic people have certain genes in them (there's this whole thing with LOD scores that I barely understand, but some of the gene loci have pretty high LOD scores, I think that the RELN gene is one of the good ones I heard explained, or maybe it was HOXA1) I think Daniel Geshwind's and Eric Courchesne's talks are pretty heavily into genetics, Patricia Rodier's is somewhat...

If you read the mercury autism promotions, beware of stuff published in "Medical Hypotheses" which anyone can publish in. You can write a paper that plausibly links autism to increase cable television usage and they will print it, all you have to do is pay. As I understand it "JAPandS" is only a little better, but I haven't been able to get a doctor to say what he thinks about "JAPandS" and "Medical Veritas" has some really weird looking people associated with it and put a copy of a Doctor's Data report on one of it's covers showing the mercury supposedly in some autistic kid.

My problem with the epidemic talk? Since when do you need a massive publicity campaign to convince people that there has been an epidemic? NBC called autism the "Hidden Epidemic". OK. why hidden? How about non-existent?

There may have been an increase in autism, and it might be due to "assortative mating" and it might be due to garbage in the environment impacting embryos. An increase is NOT an epidemic and can be small.

One more thing, regressive autism, if there is a whole (rare) disorder that just describes regression, Childhood Degenerative disorder, and there is, and it is genetic, then why can't there be a yet unnamed genetic disorder that causes the milder forms (by comparison to CDD) and that could be more common?

Dave, by comparing my writing style to Kathleen's are you saying I am less coherent and more incendiary? If you are then you are telling the truth. Good for you.

(posted by...just look below here)
posted by autismdiva at 3:33 PM on June 16, 2005


Diva, I love your writing (but you know that). I'm just pointing out for the sake of the confused that it's unlikely the one person would write in two styles that are so different. Burn, baby, burn!
posted by DaveSeidel at 3:49 PM on June 16, 2005


Look. I don't think ANYONE on this discussion so far has advocated "stop taking vaccines." That's ridiculous.

And there is NO way we will ever know for sure now that thimerosal creates autism in children because it is ethically wrong to use children as test subjects. Will the cause-and-effect EVER be crystal clear? Why, no, it probably won't.

That said, I don't think it is irresponsible to ask for more information OR to require pharma companies to either invent some other preservative for multidose vials (other than ethylmercury) or to manufacture single dose vials.

Because mercury is a neurotoxin...autism or no. I don't care if not every child is affected in some way. The potential cost of treating mercury-affected kids is not worth the cost benefit of using ethylmercury as a preservative...and I don't think we should be playing with children's lives if there is a correlation that might be suspicious. Am I being too cautious? Well, yes, I am. Because there ARE alternatives that are not as questionable, I think we can afford to be cautious.
posted by jeanmari at 4:23 PM on June 16, 2005


Look. I don't think ANYONE on this discussion so far has advocated "stop taking vaccines." That's ridiculous.

Except that people NOT on MeFi haven't followed the ins and outs of the story: "And of the families I convinced to go this route, almost all of them had been considering *not* vaccinating their children at all...because they didn't know nonthimerosal ve"rsions are available (courtesy of deja420)

And except for the fact that some people have blown it way out of proportion: "that's fucking criminal and they should be prosecuted for not alerting the public to a serious risk" (courtsey of fenriq)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:27 PM on June 16, 2005


There have been a couple of stupid or pointless posts by people on either side of this issue (he said, as if there were only two) but for the most part they have simply been ignored and conversation has continued at a fairly high (and rational) level. Good work, all!
posted by spock at 4:52 PM on June 16, 2005


People really have been not vaccinating their kids--and it's not just a few parents, but more than you'd think. All vaccines have been getting bad raps lately, and the days are gone when parents dutifully went along with whatever the pediatrician decided (which is usually good, but not when it comes to diseases). And it puts all the other kids at risk too.

U.S. Getting Point About Vaccinating Kids Overall, vaccination rates jumped from 74.8 percent in 2002 to 79.4 percent in 2003 in children aged 19 to 35 months, the latest National Immunization Survey found. ... The survey found regional differences. Whereas the overall rate among U.S. children getting the full series of shots was 79 percent, only 67.5 percent in Colorado were fully vaccinated. The top-performing state was Connecticut, which had fully vaccinated 94 percent of its children. Boston was the top major city, with 88.8 percent of children receiving the full series, while Houston was the lowest, with only 69.2 percent covered.

"What this means is that there are about a million kids who have not received their full series, so there are about a million vulnerable children," Gerberding said.

posted by amberglow at 5:04 PM on June 16, 2005


People really have been not vaccinating their kids--and it's not just a few parents, but more than you'd think. All vaccines have been getting bad raps lately, and the days are gone when parents dutifully went along with whatever the pediatrician decided (which is usually good, but not when it comes to diseases). And it puts all the other kids at risk too.

This thread proves that people who are genreally considered to have widely different opinions can agree from time to time. I whole-heartedly agree with amberglow.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:07 PM on June 16, 2005


These scare tactics are evil. Vaccines are troublesome, no doubt. The egg base and proteins are a bigger problem than any of these preservatives railed at in this thread. Get a fucking tin hat you amateur scientist know-nothings. Everyone knows the problems. As a society we should push to reduce them, push much harder than we do; break through the absent profit barrier. However, our health depends upon everyone, or almost everyone, taking the vaccine so that the disease does not spread. If you decide not to take the vaccine, when everyone else does, you are safer because you won't be harmed by the vaccine and you won't catch the disease because everyone else took the vaccine and you therefore won't get exposed. Of course this makes you an EVIL, SLIMY, SELFISH FUCK! You give everyone else the risk and take all the benefit for yourself. Fuck You! A pox upon you and your family.
posted by caddis at 5:28 PM on June 16, 2005


Actually, just recently a coworker of mine's kids all came down with chickenpox, but they had been vaccinated--weird. It's a new vaccine, and it's only 85 percent effective in preventing disease, which really really surprised us.
posted by amberglow at 5:35 PM on June 16, 2005


jalexei and autismdiva, that's not just any list of diseases. DPT is Diptheria, Pertussis, Tetanus. Vaccination involves risk, but the risks of reducing the level of vaccinations is also very significant, and I wanted to point out the risks of not vaccinating, against the huge benefits of vaccinating. Even if you set aside the autism debate, vaccination still has some risks.

Every parent and child has to take a little bit of risk from the vaccination process to provide the safety of vaccination. If only 1 child in the world is not vaccinated, that child is safe. And a lot of parents want to have the 1 child who can be safe without the vaccine. There are a lot of children who can’t be vaccinated because they’re not healthy, or allergic, or have parents who don’t provide them with health care. If all the other kids are vaccinated, those few children are pretty safe, and that seems pretty fair.

We have been so successful at reducing so many risks that we are intolerant of any risk. And social responsibility isn’t very popular.

For the record, my child was vaccinated, not necessarily because I'm so socially responsible, but because I believed the risks of those diseases is way scarier than the risks of vaccination.

I found this while I was doing some more googling this evening: “Sonoma County, where as many as half the schoolchildren are unvaccinated at the insistence of their parents, ” http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/health/dpt.html (scroll down, the letter from Dr. William F. Haddon is worth reading).
posted by theora55 at 6:02 PM on June 16, 2005


Everyone should just get chickenpox, unless they have a risk like asthma or whatever, and be done with it. Going natural is proven to give you a nearly lifelong protection against further infection and the vaccine is iffy.

Whooping cough on the other hand can kill you [and this is the big controversy vaccine]. Have anyone of you railing against this ever seen a baby dying from whooping cough? I bet not. If you did I bet you would change your pathetic tunes. Imagine a baby coughing and choking for air and then, even with the oxygen, just going silent. Gone, can't be revived. Why? Crying, shock, help?, none, oh God..............
posted by caddis at 6:29 PM on June 16, 2005


For the whole story, the real story, read David Kirby's Evidence of Harm. It just came out in March and thoroughly takes on the Thimerosal theory. The author, an NY Times journalist, took interest in the issue the day Congress voted on the Homeland Security Bill. At the final hour, someone snuck a paragraph into the HomeLand Security Bill specifically protecting Eli Lilly (the makers of Thimerosal) from lawsuits over Thimerosal poisoning. Kirby asked, what a preservative in a vaccine had to do with homeland security...and thus began his research. It looks at all the studies, all evidence, and does not draw a conclusion, but makes a real case for more research. Is there definite proof? No. Is there enough evidence to make your skin crawl? Frighteningly, yes.

Does it feel like the parents featured in the book are just out for financial gain? Give me a break. Watch the mind of your healthy child disintegrate in a matter of weeks, watch them battle horrible, chronic illnesses, and writhe in pain (yes physical pain--something many may not know is a big part of their lives)...then learn that 125 times the allowable dose of mercury for an adult was injected into your child a week before his symptoms began. Then ask yourself if you need to know if there's a connection? And if it really has to do with money?

Vaccines don't have to have mercury in them, by the way, and most available to us in the US at this time do not with the notable exception of flu shots (which also don't need mercury, but have it anyway.) So read the literature and ask your doctor about the 'bad' vaccines and what vaccines they use. If your doctor says that there are no bad vaccines or unwilling to discuss the issue with you consider not letting that doctor vaccinate your child.
posted by n9 at 6:30 PM on June 16, 2005


Watch the mind of your healthy child disintegrate in a matter of weeks, watch them battle horrible, chronic illnesses...Then ask yourself if you need to know if there's a connection?

as someone said above, that's a perfect reason for parents to jump to unscientific conclusions. They are dealing with something very unhappy and they really want an answer. Unfortunately, we don't have an answer yet. Some parents will accept that and try to deal with what they do know. Some parents will latch onto hypotheses that seem intuitive enough, despite their not actually being supported by the data, simply because they help the world to make sense again. There's an explanation.

But if you look into the explanation and it doesn't hold up, you have to be ready to modify your theories. This explanation has been argued about for years, and the scientific community is pretty together on the verdict: this isn't the culprit.

Higher diagnosis of autism is definitely one factor in the rise; it seems like there can be no doubt about that. As others have said, autism is a set of symptoms, not a virus or specific physical difference. (High functioning autistics or folks with "asperger's syndrome" were just called "nerds" in the old days.)

However, as digaman says, there could well be some environmental cause that is increasing the manifestation of these symptoms. There are a lot of chemicals in the environment these days, so we could probably find a lot of possible culprits if our health is going down...
posted by mdn at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2005


But if you look into the explanation and it doesn't hold up, you have to be ready to modify your theories. This explanation has been argued about for years, and the scientific community is pretty together on the verdict: this isn't the culprit.

This is simply not true. If you think the scientific community is together on the verdict, you've got your head in the sand. And, yes, these parents might give up if the explanation didn't hold up, but pretty much all, yes, all the biological studies done and being done, support the hypothesis that mercury is a major suspect. The published studies that say "this isn't the culprit" are epidemiology studies controlled by the likes of the CDC, who refuses to cooperate with FOIA and allow independent corroboration. As for the Danish study, the researches themselves confess that it may be a bogus study since the variables were changed throughout.
posted by n9 at 7:14 PM on June 16, 2005


Caddis: These scare tactics are evil.

Caddis 61 minutes later: Imagine a baby coughing and choking for air and then, even with the oxygen, just going silent. Gone, can't be revived. Why? Crying, shock, help?, none, oh God..............

I guess scare tactics are only evil if they come out of other's mouths, eh? People tend to use scare tactics when they feel that they need to get people's attention. If you are gonna be against them, then don't use them. If you are gonna feel justified using them, then understand that others may feel similarly from their side of the table.

Look, I am not against vaccinations and I think people who are against them are not being intellectually honest. (They want to avoid a 1 in 100,000 chance of a side effect, but are willing to take the 1 in 10,000 chance that their child will get the disease. Senseless. ).

This is about the appropriate response to a study that indicates that something may need to be changed for the public good. The CDC's actions are not lily white in this regard. Slipping corporate liability protection into a Homeland Security bill should give those of you claiming that there is NO problem with thimerosal a reason for pause.
posted by spock at 7:54 PM on June 16, 2005


n9, you can't brush every single study finding no link between autism and thimerosal with the same stroke of "CDC-controlled" or some such thing. There have been at least three studies cited in this very thread that have come out of different non-US-government sources, one of which is out of a European patient base and written by the very person that RFK Jr uses to quote doom and gloom. Honestly, I do think it's pretty safe and reasonable to say that the scientific community -- meaning the community of researchers who practice the scientific method, evaluating evidence and revising hypotheses based on findings -- is united in the conclusion that there's no link between autism and thimerosal.

But all that being said, I also don't think that, in a forum like this, anyone should take my word for it -- go to your own kids' pediatricians, print out and bring any evidence that concerns you, and have a reasoned discussion with him or her. Read up on study methodology and dissect the data yourself. Ask how certain studies can conclude A and others can conclude B, and do everything you can to see the differences in how studies are performed and what they are and aren't able to (and designed to) conclude. And finally, understand that your kids' pediatricians don't have any horse in the race other than to advocate for the health of your children and those children around them.
posted by delfuego at 8:07 PM on June 16, 2005


The idea of many kids not getting vaxed (for no reason) is scary. Up in Canada not too long ago there was an outbreak of rubella. The church group from which it developed didn't officially discourage it's members to not vaccinate, or didn't outright condemn vaccines, but the parents in this bunch were more likely to reject vaccinations. Rubella spread really quickly it seemed to have been brought from a member of the same church in the Netherlands who came over by plane bringing the germ. Several pregnant woman were definately exposed to the virus. The news I was following never said how far along they were. The thing is the most vulnerable don't even know they are pregnant yet, or just are barely deciding that they might be.

Quarantining folks for rubella isn't quite effective as it sounds since lots of people will be contagious and not be sick.

This is the social responsibility of vaccinating, the school kids who get rubella, bascially, will never be harmed by it. But school kids are germ bombs (God love them anyway), and they become a massive threat to moms who are pregnant if there is an outbreak.
Congenital rubella syndrome was not unheard of in the 1970's then the US made a big push to get everyone vaxed for it. Voila, the problem basically disappeared.

As I clumsily said before, congenital rubella can cause autism symptoms, as well as other even worse disabilities and needless loss of an unborn baby.

Anyway, it's hard to separate the whole antivax movement from Kennedy's story because the groups that are antimercury have members who are conspiracy-theorist far out antivaxers, even if the leaders say that the organization isn't antivax. And the rabid antivaxers, as Dave Seidel pointed out will lap up the Kennedy article, and in the process delete (for the moment) Bobby Kennedy Jr. from their list of ILLUMINATI (cue the spooky music).

One more thing, just a few years ago thimerosol was in a gazillion American homes, in mercurochrome, merthiolate and in the 1980's especially, contact lens cleaners. I painted the stuff on my own open wounds as a kid.

And plenty of folks my age played with mercury in their bare hands. (One of my kids knocked a thermometer out of the bathroom cupboard today and we had tiny blobs of mercury and glass shards near the bathroom sink, I touched the mercury even, I was more afraid of the glass) OK, probably not the safest thing, but surely that says something about mercury. It isn't always horrifically toxic.

Sure mercury needs to be handled carefully, but for a long (in the 1930's to 1970's) time we didn't and there was no boom in autism from that.

It's tragic that seafood is full of mercury, but so far there hasn't been any obvious linkage between moms or children eating fish - and autism. The extant studies might not catch subtle effects, but they ruled out obvious effects.

As for the Kirby book, well he links to my blog from his flaming sensationalistically designed website (www.evidenceofharm.com). I have dedicated several installments to his (stupid) book, but the blog isn't just about his (idiotic) book.
posted by autismdiva at 8:12 PM on June 16, 2005


That isn't a scare tactic it is reality. I guess you haven't ever seen a baby struggling to breath with whooping cough. I have, and it was one of the worst things I have ever seen. Whooping cough isn't theoretical, it is real, and it kills. Thimersol issues are still theory, at best. The failure to vaccinate affecting others is also real, very real. I can say with confidence that the number of babies that have died from whooping cough far, far exceeds the number of babies that have died from thimersol, most likely by multiple orders of magnitude.

If thimersol causes problems then it should be studied and eliminated. However, the evidence is weak for harm, yet the rhetoric shrill. It seems very unscientific, almost like the folks who deny evolution or deny global warming.
posted by caddis at 8:26 PM on June 16, 2005


This has been a facinating conversation, and I, too, laud how rational and thoughtful nearly everyone has been, however, speaking as someone who does lots of work around the issue of environmental mercury contamination (something you, davesidel, should have an interest in, since (if I recall correctly) you live in the same state as I do, and together we are the proud citizen-owners of one of the worst mercury dump sites in the US), I'm left with two questions:

1) Where is the harm in encouraging parents to seek out Thimerosal-free versions of vaccines, if that would encourage more parents to vaccinate their kids? Its clearly a worry for some parents, and a responsible marketplace provides alternatives for people with varrying concerns, rather than just blandly saying "take this, its good for you." Why does the Thimersol-doesn't-cause-it crowd seem so violently opposed to even considering the idea of promoting Thimersol-free vaccines?

2) How do you explain the demonstrably tiny incedence of autism amonst populations that don't vaccinate (I'm thinking, in particular, of the Amish here, but I'm sure there are other similar control populations as well. )
posted by anastasiav at 8:35 PM on June 16, 2005


Anastasiav, I'm pretty sure I can't speak for everyone who doesn't buy the link, but I'm perfectly fine with the notion of thimerosal-free vaccines; don't misinterpret my vigilant defense of the body of legitimate science that has found no link with some idea that I think thimerosal is irreplacable, or that parents who seek thimerosal-free vaccines are wingnuts. What I'm incredibly annoyed with is the fact that there are people out there whose motivation for pushing thimerosal-free vaccines is an outright insistence that there's some cover-up or other malfeasance that's preventing the Truth About Thimerosal from being known, and that such a push has the ability to do actual harm to any kids who don't receive any vaccines as a result.

Your second question is a red herring; there's nothing to say that there aren't 1,000 other variables that separate the Amish population from the rest of the nation's children. And since we don't actually know what "causes autism" (that notion itself a red herring, since "autism" is extremely unlikely to be any one condition), we have no idea what we could be overlooking, or what could be the crucial difference, to explain different incidence levels in different populations. An example: say we didn't know that Tay-Sachs disease was genetic, but rather we just knew it when we saw it, and we then noticed the trend towards increased incidence in orthodox Jewish populations. In that scenario, it would be easy to find something to which orthodox Jews had increased exposure (say, kosher meats) and claim that that exposure causes Tay-Sachs. Or taking another tack, we could take something that orthodox Jews are less likely to be exposed to (say, shellfish, or pork) prevents Tay-Sachs, and it's that prevention that is absent in the orthodox Jewish population. Of course, we'd be wrong; it's an autosomal recessive genetic condition, and it's the historically smaller gene pools from which today's orthodox Jewish populations derive that is at root of the increased incidence. In the end, knowing the cause of a disease helps root out the reasons why certain populations are more or less prone to exhibiting that disease.

And might I add that the Geiers, cited a few times above as the only people who have been able to study the CDC dataset and who have found a link between autism and thimerosal in that dataset, are a scary pair. Between their overt scientific hackery and their complete lack of honesty, impartiality, or credibility, it makes me sad that anyone turns to them for support for any theory at all.
posted by delfuego at 8:52 PM on June 16, 2005


Has there been any studying of specific chemicals in food or environmental pollution? Or in utero exposure to anything being a possible cause? They've only recently started to warn pregnant women about mercury and fish consumption. Mercury's known to cause big problems.
posted by amberglow at 9:28 PM on June 16, 2005


How do you explain the demonstrably tiny incedence of autism amonst populations that don't vaccinate (I'm thinking, in particular, of the Amish here, but I'm sure there are other similar control populations as well. )

Anastasiav, I would hope there were other control populations, since the Amish strike me as a highly specialized population with tremendous societal pressures working toward genetic homogeneity. I'd definitely like to see more research before anything is considered "demonstrable" in this regard.


posted by digaman at 10:08 PM on June 16, 2005


Answering amberglow:
"Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment ("CHARGE")
This study will look at factors in the environment that are associated with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in some children and families. Approximately 1,000 children will participate - children with autism spectrum disorder (2-5 years old), children with mental retardation without autism (2-5 years old), and normally developing children (2-6 years old). The study requires up to three clinic visits. Please note that all subjects are recruited through Northern and Central California Regional Centers only. For more information on this study, please call toll free, (866) 550-5027."

http://beincharge.ucdavis.edu/CHARGE_Newsletter_2.pdf

It looks like their last newsletter is over a year old.

They are taking hair samples from the mom if her hair is long enough it will show if she had alot of mercury in her system when she was pregnant, hair being sort of like tree rings and acting as a sort of metals recording device. If it's done right and the results interpreted scientifically. They are taking blood samples from mom and kids and asking a million questions on what kind of bug spray the family uses, etc.

If it shows that prenatal exposure to flame retardants in foam cushions are implicated in autism, I'll cheer. I'll say, "make the manufacturer pay". But I don't think chemicals will be implicated in many cases, if any.

At any rate the results will have been derived from painstaking analysis of a very large group with controls by real experts.

I have met Dr. Hertz-Picciotto and discussed mercury with her a couple of times. You can hear her on www.cityvisionsradio.com a Public station out of San Francisco. You have to sort of scroll down through their archived shows to get the link to the audio of it.

----
I asked Dr. H-P if David Kirby ever contacted her before his book came out, she said, no. I asked Kirby if he knew of her, he didn't. He asked me if I thought she would answer an email from him. I said she probably would, but that was back when David emailed me chummy like.

Now I guess I'm the author of a blistering blog, or something, he's making big brags on Ariana's "Huffington Post" sort-of-blog about how he's ready for the experts to "bring it on".

Oh, bring me a barf bag. He has so many stupid mistakes in his book it's pathetic. Yes, he has scandalous facts, too.

Really makes me wonder who edited his book at St. Martin's, it looks like they did no fact checking, though maybe the real blunders got edited away and only medium blunders remained. Example: He says that mercury is the second most toxic *substance* on earth. Those are his exact words, but mercury, in any form, absolutely is *not* the second most toxic substance on earth, or even close.

He claimed to want to debate all this on the British Medical Journal Rapid Response board, but then he got busy and never came back and answered the civil questions posed there.

There's a link to the BMJ thing on his wikipedia page.
This is the wiki page Look where it says:
"On 23 May 2005, Kirby defended himself on the British Medical Journal's online Rapid Response board. A 14 May 2005 post to the same thread (regarding Fitzpatrick's book review) was sent by someone claiming to be Kirby; Kirby says that the he was not responsible for this post.
On the British Medical Journal Rapid Response board, others offer their comments for and against the evidence in "Evidence of Harm", including two autistic people in the latter group."
posted by autismdiva at 10:39 PM on June 16, 2005


spock: If it is so safe, then why discontinue it at all?

For the same reason you can't get an IUD installed in the states, juries will come into trials "knowing" that thimerosal causes autism and will find for the plantiff regardless of the facts presented at trial.

MetalDog writes "OK, question for all the debunkers. Since we are apparantly certain thimersosal does not cause or contribute to autism, what does cause it? You must know, right?"

I'm pretty sure gun shots to the arm don't cause autism that does't mean I know what does.
posted by Mitheral at 12:22 AM on June 17, 2005


delfuego writes "Anastasiav, I'm pretty sure I can't speak for everyone who doesn't buy the link, but I'm perfectly fine with the notion of thimerosal-free vaccines; don't misinterpret my vigilant defense of the body of legitimate science that has found no link with some idea that I think thimerosal is irreplacable, or that parents who seek thimerosal-free vaccines are wingnuts. What I'm incredibly annoyed with is the fact that there are people out there whose motivation for pushing thimerosal-free vaccines is an outright insistence that there's some cover-up or other malfeasance that's preventing the Truth About Thimerosal from being known, and that such a push has the ability to do actual harm to any kids who don't receive any vaccines as a result."

This pretty much sums up how I feel about it, but I would add that I understand that parents really want to know what is causing autism in their kids, and that subscribing to the vaccine theory makes that less, rather than more, likely.
posted by OmieWise at 5:50 AM on June 17, 2005


thanks diva...i hope they can clear this all up, or that someone can.
posted by amberglow at 5:58 AM on June 17, 2005


Check out this new critique of the RFK Jr. article on the Respectful Insolence blog.
posted by DaveSeidel at 8:44 AM on June 17, 2005


One more thing to note that is covered in Kirby's book. There is a potential link between thimerosal vaccines' mercury content causing autistic symptoms and what may be a genetic trait that inhibits a person's body to rid itself of heavy metals. Say what you will there is documentation of kids who began to be symtomatic of autism after vaccination who where carrying *huge* loads of murcury well over the threshold of being poisoned by it. In these cases you might make the argument that mercury was not the cause but the body's inability to flush it out, but considering that mercury is a poisonous substance I think that the side of reason comes down pretty strongly on NOT injecting poison into babies when there are alternatives.

If you don't have a child that has gone through vaccinations you should at least consider the point of view of those that are going through this. Thimerosal was not in the vaccines that most adults got when they were kids and it is not in vaccines now. What is the net loss of removing it? Of not injecting babies and small children with mercury? What do people have invested in the notion that it is totally harmless? I wouldn't tell someone that breakfast ceral was totally harmless with the conviction and table thumping that a lot of people are emplying to push that thimerosal is harmless.

All this is ultimately beside the point. Kirby's book shows more than enough evidence that (science aside, even) there was something going on that has not been fully disclosed relating to the health of a generation of children that needs to be disclosed. In the current context of drug companys playing games with the general health why is there so much resistance to investigating these claims?
posted by n9 at 8:57 AM on June 17, 2005


n9

Kirby tells the gut wrenching tale of how Lyn Redwood with her searching green or brown, cat-like or whatever, eyes, sends of a her son's first hair cut clipping
sacrificing it to find out if he is mercury toxic
as she suspects
(this is fairly early in the gut griping page turner, repleat with many descriptions of tears and diarrhea).

Hold your breath.... she gets a fax back from the mail order lab... We don't know which lab....it shows hugely high amounts of mercury GASP! and aluminum or something...

She is horrified....

Then, later in the book he tells of this study (which I'm pretty sure was done in Arizona, and is the one I heard the author present at the International Meeting for Autism Research in 2004)

Are you ready.... the results of that study found NO mercury in the autistic kid's hair (or much less) BUT normal amounts in the normal kid's hair...

SO! What now!? OH, we invent a new explanation. Kids who have autism don't "excrete" mercury like normal kids do.

Unless they are Lyn Redwood's kid, or something, or anyone else...because using hair to look for evidence of mercury exposure is still considered a legitimate way to look for historical mercury exposure...read what I wrote about the CHARGE study and moms' hair....

This is so pathetic. There is no evidence that mercury get "excreted" into the hair. It gets lain down passively with the protein etc in the hair.

Any doctor's want to comment on this?

These people are weird.

The guy who gave the presentation at IMFAR used old and incorrect data about lead in the environment and was called on it in front of the audience by Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, who basically looked at him like she thought he was a ding-a-ling... I was sitting near her with a few empty seats between us when she contradicted him and when he came up and squatted next to her to thank her for pointing out his glaring error.

I told David Kirby (by email) that it's too bad THAT little drama didn't make it into his (stupid) book.

The speaker was a tall guy about 30 and had brown hair, as I remember. He was white, like everyone else in this mess.

Anyone notice how the ethnic communities are screaming bloody murder over this, or even the poor white communities? No, it's the Hollywood and country club types who got "stuck" with a child they didn't want, a handicapped one.

I have no problem with thimerosal being removed, I also don't think it ever caused autism or any huge problem, and it did it's job of keeping the bacteria out of multi-dose vials.

The toxin is in the dose. Injecting mercury doesn't equal injecting a toxin until the dose gets to be toxic. This hasn't been proven here. If mercury really destroyed cells like mad then people would have figured out the mercurochrome was slowing down the healing of their wounds, it was used probably a million times over on people's cuts and scrapes when I was a kid.

Haley is a flaming weirdo, I wouldn't take his word on what mercury does or does not do, and Kennedy only quotes him, not the other supposed mercury experts he talked to (like who, Lujene Clark?).

I have had kids who have had their shots, I got a flu shot this year and so did my adult child with ASD. I asked for extra thimerosal in mine....

I said, "Give me the one that has a 1/4 inch of silvery mercury sitting in the bottom of the vial and make sure I get it injected into me."

Well, no, but there are mercury=autism parents who say, "oh, MY!! I wonder if my child got the stuff from the "bottom of the vile (sic)" (that's one quote I thought was funny).

Right. Like the vial sits on the counter for days, the mercury settles out, the nurse comes in, quietly tip-toes up to the vial, holds it steady down to the counter, inserts the needle and sucks up the silvery stuff for the last shot.

They turn the vials UPSIDE DOWN to load the syringe, and probably shake it really good first. I've filled syringes, that's what I had to do, and seems like that's everyone does it.

ok, now I'm ranting.

Kirby's book is junk.
posted by autismdiva at 12:07 PM on June 17, 2005


ack, sorry, can I delete a duplicated post? do I flag it?
posted by autismdiva at 12:12 PM on June 17, 2005


ack, sorry, can I delete a duplicated post? do I flag it?
all you can do is flag it and Matt or Jessamyn might delete the duplicate.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:45 PM on June 17, 2005


I would just like to say that I'm not a wingnut, I did have my son vaccinated, but I was well read enough to know that there were non mercury vaccines if one asked for them. My point was that I was able to get a bunch of people who were afraid of vaccines into the doctor's office to have their children vaccinated with the single dose vaccines.

Cut to the chase. We want all kids vaccinated. Many of us don't want mercury injected in our children, whether there's an austism link or not. There are vaccines that are mercury-free. Wouldn't it make sense to tell people about those vaccines?
posted by dejah420 at 12:53 PM on June 17, 2005


An update, since I was explicitly asked above how I felt about the attempt to cover up study findings by the CDC: it turns out (shocker of all shockers) that RFK Jr. took the Simpsonwood quotes out of context to manufacture a coverup! It's actually more hysterical than that -- the full quote by John Clements was a warning that propagandists could take the preliminary data that they were discussing and use it completely out of context, which is exactly what RFK Jr. did. This feels like a movie poster, in that when I read the reviewer "quotes" on the posters, I'm reasonably sure that the movie reviewer said nothing of the sort, but the movie producer needed something to anchor his promotion. Same thing here.

Incidentally, the link above is a reasonably good refutation of a bunch of other fallacies promulgated by the RFK Jr. piece; it's worth a read.
posted by delfuego at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2005


[deleted autismdiva's double]
posted by jessamyn at 6:16 PM on June 17, 2005


Lots of autism/thimerosal/mercury stuff in the NYT today:posted by grouse at 1:29 AM on June 25, 2005


New York bans mercury in vaccines
posted by amberglow at 3:31 PM on June 27, 2005


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