Tue Sep 18, 10:48 PM ET
Oprah Winfrey has made history again. This time it was a show on autism. Not just another show but one that every parent who has a child with autism can use as a guide.
Hopefully some philanthropist -- perhaps Oprah, herself -- will have millions of copies made and hand them out like samples for physicians to pass on to their patients. Kind of like pharmaceuticals, although the only side effect would be outrage at what has happened to so many children harmed as a result of the current autism epidemic.
Sixteen years ago I left a neurologist's office after my son was given this baffling diagnosis of world class proportions. I left in tears but without any hope or useful advice. Boy, could I have used a copy of today's show back then. True, they didn't know in those days what they know now. But it has been a long time coming. And even today not every parent gets told the whole story.
Oprah, start making those copies. Please!
There were no scientists, social scientists or medical "experts" on Winfrey's latest and most courageous autism show on Tuesday. Just two mothers. Okay, they were not just any mothers. They were Jenny McCarthy, the actress, author and renowned beauty and Holly Robinson Peete, who had the remarkable good sense years ago to marry the football star Rodney Peete. But autism is, sadly, a great equalizer. The first thing any mother hears when presented with the diagnosis is that her child will be unable to communicate and hence live a life of isolation without choice.
But there are choices. And there are plans of action. And there are ways to celebrate so much that is wonderful about kids with autism, while helping them deal with the symptoms that are not-so-great. McCarthy and Peete made that crystal clear today. They also drove home the point that "something happened" to create this epidemic of one in 150, emphasizing that the vaccination connection must be investigated further -- and properly. Too many parents have noticed that their children regressed into autism after being vaccinated -- and we do know that toxic mercury has been used as a preservative in vaccinations for years. We also know that the number of prescribed childhood vaccinations has multiplied substantially. Meanwhile medical authorities have dismissed and shamed parents who bring this up.
McCarthy noted that she is not against vaccinations but that when it comes to medicine "one size does not fit all."
"My science is Evan," McCarthy said about her son. (He has improved significantly from bio-medical measures often pooh-poohed by the medical establishment.) "He's at home."
The two women added that although not every kid with autism will be cured, it's more than worth trying. And every kid with autism can be educated.
It was stunning to hear Holly Peete say about her son; "We were kicked out of a school because they said he was unteachable."
If her kid can get kicked out, whose kid is safe?
And so, the women urged other parents to "beat down doors," and be as vigilant as possible in demanding an appropriate education for children with autism. In other words -- mine -- give your school districts a chance but remember that every day lost is a day without education. If necessary, storm the barricades.
Peete spoke about her marriage succeeding under these most difficult of circumstances. McCarthy spoke about hers failing -- and about the way Jim Carrey has apparently become a great autism "dad," to her son, albeit not a biological one. The actress added that the best gift anyone can give a financially stressed couple, or a single parent, dealing with autism is free babysitting, preferably overnight. (Memo to autism parents: When you get that free babysitter, go to the next Jim Carrey movie.)
My only endnote is that none of this would have happened so spectacularly on television if it wasn't for a woman named Katie Wright. Months ago, on an earlier and generally far less gutsy Oprah program, Katie Wright stood up to a pediatrician in the audience and told her that when it comes to autism it was time to start listening to parents. And that started the television balls rolling.
If you don't know who Katie Wright is, please look her up. And look up all the parents who came before her, too.
SOURCE: Danger of Vaccinations
Attack on MothersRobert F Kennedy Jr.
The poisonous public attacks on Katie Wright this week--for revealing that her autistic son Christian (grandson of NBC Chair Bob Wright), has recovered significant function after chelation treatments to remove mercury -- surprised many observers unfamiliar with the acrimonious debate over the mercury-based vaccine preservative Thimerosal. But the patronizing attacks on the mothers of autistic children who have organized to oppose this brain-killing poison is one of the most persistent tactics employed by those defending Thimerosal against the barrage of scientific evidence linking it to the epidemic of pediatric neurological disorders, including autism. Mothers of autistics are routinely dismissed as irrational, hysterical, or as a newspaper editor told me last week, "desperate to find the reason for their children's illnesses," and therefore, overwrought and disconnected.
But my experience with these women is inconsistent with those patronizing assessments. Over the past two years I've met or communicated with several hundred of these women. Instead of a desperate mob of irrational hysterics, I've found the anti-Thimerosal activists for the most part to be calm, grounded and extraordinarily patient. As a group, they are highly educated. Many of them are doctors, nurses, schoolteachers, pharmacists, psychologists, Ph.D.s and other professionals. Many of them approached the link skeptically and only through dispassionate and diligent investigation became convinced that Thimerosal-laced vaccines destroyed their children's brains. As a group they have sat through hundreds of meetings and scientific conferences, and studied research papers and medical tests. They have networked with each other at meetings and on the Web. Along the way they have stoically endured the abuse routinely heaped upon them by the vaccine industry and public health authorities and casual dismissal by reporters and editors too lazy to do their jobs.
Many of these women tell a story virtually identical to Katie Wright's -- I have now heard or seen this grim chronology recounted hundreds of times in conversations, e-mails and letters from mothers: At 2-1/2 years old, Christian Wright exceeded all milestones. He had 1,000 words, was toilet-trained, and enjoyed excellent social relations with his brother and others. Then his pediatrician gave him Thimerosal-laced vaccines. He cried all night, developed a fever and, over the coming months, this smart, healthy child disappeared. Christian lost the ability to speak, to interact with family members, to make eye contact or to point a finger. He is no longer toilet trained. He engaged in stereotypical behavior--screaming, head-banging, biting and uncontrolled aggression, and suffers continuously the agonizing pain of gastrointestinal inflammation.
After hearing that story a couple dozen times, a rational person might do some more investigation. That's when one encounters the overwhelming science -- hundreds of research studies from dozens of countries showing the undeniable connection between mercury and Thimerosal and a wide range of neurological illnesses. In response to the overwhelming science, CDC and the pharmaceutical industry ginned up four European studies designed to disguise the link between autism and Thimerosal. Their purpose was to provide plausible deniability for the consequences of their awful decision to allow brain-killing mercury to be injected into our youngest children. Those deliberately deceptive and fatally flawed studies were authored by vaccine industry consultants and paid for by Thimerosal producers and published largely in compromised journals that neglected to disclose the myriad conflicts of their authors in violation of standard peer-review ethics. As I've shown elsewhere [see www.robertfkennedyjr.com], these studies were borderline fraud, using statistical deceptions to mislead the public and regulatory community.
The CDC and IOM base their defense of Thimerosal on these flimsy studies, their own formidable reputations, and their faith that journalists won't take the time to critically read the science. The bureaucrats are simultaneously using their influence, energies and clout to derail, defund and suppress any scientific study that may verify the link between Thimerosal and brain disorders. (These would include epidemiological studies comparing the records of vaccinated children with those of unvaccinated populations like the Amish or home-schooled kids who appear to enjoy dramatically reduced levels of autism and other neurological disorders.) The federal agencies have refused to release the massive public health information accumulated in their Vaccine Safety Database (VSD) apparently to keep independent scientists from reviewing evidence that could prove the link. They are also muzzling or blackballing scientists who want to conduct such studies.
Ironically, it is the same voices that once blamed autism on "bad parenting," and "uninvolved" moms that are now faulting these mothers for being too involved.
Due to this campaign of obfuscation and public deception, Thimerosal-based vaccines continue to sicken millions of children around the world and potential treatments -- like the chelation that benefited Christian Wright -- are kept out of the hands of the mainstream doctors now treating autistic kids with less effective tools. Like thousands of other mothers of autistic children, Katie Wright knows what sickened her child. Her efforts to spare other families this catastrophe, deployed with a cool head and calm demeanor, are truly heroic. Maybe it's time we all started listening. Maybe it's time to start respecting and honoring the maternal instincts and hard work of Katie and her fellow mothers by aggressively funding the studies that might verify or dispute them.
SOURCE: Robert F. Kennedy Article - Attack on Mothers
originally published on Salon.com
June 16, 2005
In June 2000, a group of top government scientists and health officials gathered
for a meeting at the isolated Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Ga.
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.
The federal officials and industry representatives had assembled to
discuss a disturbing new study that raised alarming questions about
the safety of a host of common childhood vaccines administered to infants
and young children. According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten,
who had analyzed the agency's massive database containing the medical
records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines
-- thimerosal -- appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase
in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children. "I
was actually stunned by what I saw," Verstraeten told those assembled
at Simpsonwood, citing the staggering number of earlier studies that
indicate a link between thimerosal and speech delays, attention-deficit
disorder, hyperactivity and autism. Since 1991, when the CDC and the
FDA had recommended that three additional vaccines laced with the preservative
be given to extremely young infants -- in one case, within hours of
birth -- the estimated number of cases of autism had increased fifteenfold,
from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.
Even for scientists and doctors accustomed to confronting issues of
life and death, the findings were frightening. "You can play with this
all you want," Dr. Bill Weil, a consultant for the American Academy
of Pediatrics, told the group. The results "are statistically significant." Dr.
Richard Johnston, an immunologist and pediatrician from the University
of Colorado whose grandson had been born early on the morning of the
meeting's first day, was even more alarmed. "My gut feeling?" he said. "Forgive
this personal comment -- I do not want my grandson to get a thimerosal-containing
vaccine until we know better what is going on."
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.
"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 that "perhaps this study should not have been done at all." He
added that "the research results have to be handled," warning that
the study "will be taken by others and will be used in other ways beyond
the control of this group."
In fact, the government has proved to be far more adept at handling
the damage than at protecting children's health. The CDC paid the Institute
of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the risks of thimerosal,
ordering researchers to "rule out" the chemical's link to autism. It
withheld Verstraeten's findings, even though they had been slated for
immediate publication, and told other scientists that his original
data had been "lost" and could not be replicated. And to thwart the
Freedom of Information Act, it handed its giant database of vaccine
records over to a private company, declaring it off-limits to researchers.
By the time Verstraeten finally published his study in 2003, he had
gone to work for GlaxoSmithKline and reworked his data to bury the
link between thimerosal and autism.
Vaccine manufacturers had already begun to phase thimerosal out of
injections given to American infants -- but they continued to sell
off their mercury-based supplies of vaccines until last year. The CDC
and FDA gave them a hand, buying up the tainted vaccines for export
to developing countries and allowing drug companies to continue using
the preservative in some American vaccines -- including several pediatric
flu shots as well as tetanus boosters routinely given to 11-year-olds.
The drug companies are also getting help from powerful lawmakers in
Washington. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has received $873,000
in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, has been working
to immunize vaccine makers from liability in 4,200 lawsuits that have
been filed by the parents of injured children. On five separate occasions,
Frist has tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents
-- including the Simpsonwood transcripts -- and shield Eli Lilly, the
developer of thimerosal, from subpoenas. In 2002, the day after Frist
quietly slipped a rider known as the "Eli Lilly Protection Act" into
a homeland security bill, the company contributed $10,000 to his campaign
and bought 5,000 copies of his book on bioterrorism. Congress repealed
the measure in 2003 -- but earlier this year, Frist slipped another
provision into an anti-terrorism bill that would deny compensation
to children suffering from vaccine-related brain disorders. "The lawsuits
are of such magnitude that they could put vaccine producers out of
business and limit our capacity to deal with a biological attack by
terrorists," says Andy Olsen, a legislative assistant to Frist.
Even many conservatives are shocked by the government's effort to
cover up the dangers of thimerosal. Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from
Indiana, oversaw a three-year investigation of thimerosal after his
grandson was diagnosed with autism. "Thimerosal used as a preservative
in vaccines is directly related to the autism epidemic," his House
Government Reform Committee concluded in its final report. "This epidemic
in all probability may have been prevented or curtailed had the FDA
not been asleep at the switch regarding a lack of safety data regarding
injected thimerosal, a known neurotoxin." The FDA and other public-health
agencies failed to act, the committee added, out of "institutional
malfeasance for self protection" and "misplaced protectionism of the
The story of how government health agencies colluded with Big Pharma
to hide the risks of thimerosal from the public is a chilling case
study of institutional arrogance, power and greed. I was drawn into
the controversy only reluctantly. As an attorney and environmentalist
who has spent years working on issues of mercury toxicity, I frequently
met mothers of autistic children who were absolutely convinced that
their kids had been injured by vaccines. Privately, I was skeptical.
I doubted that autism could be blamed on a single source, and I certainly
understood the government's need to reassure parents that vaccinations
are safe; the eradication of deadly childhood diseases depends on it.
I tended to agree with skeptics like Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat
from California, who criticized his colleagues on the House Government
Reform Committee for leaping to conclusions about autism and vaccinations. "Why
should we scare people about immunization," Waxman pointed out at one
hearing, "until we know the facts?"
It was only after reading the Simpsonwood transcripts, studying the
leading scientific research and talking with many of the nation's preeminent
authorities on mercury that I became convinced that the link between
thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is
real. Five of my own children are members of the Thimerosal Generation
-- those born between 1989 and 2003 -- who received heavy doses of
mercury from vaccines. "The elementary grades are overwhelmed with
children who have symptoms of neurological or immune-system damage," Patti
White, a school nurse, told the House Government Reform Committee in
1999. "Vaccines are supposed to be making us healthier; however, in
25 years of nursing I have never seen so many damaged, sick kids. Something
very, very wrong is happening to our children." More than 500,000 kids
currently suffer from autism, and pediatricians diagnose more than
40,000 new cases every year. The disease was unknown until 1943, when
it was identified and diagnosed among 11 children born in the months
after thimerosal was first added to baby vaccines in 1931.
Some skeptics dispute that the rise in autism is caused by thimerosal-tainted
vaccinations. They argue that the increase is a result of better diagnosis
-- a theory that seems questionable at best, given that most of the
new cases of autism are clustered within a single generation of children. "If
the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis," scoffs Dr. Boyd
Haley, one of the world's authorities on mercury toxicity, "then where
are all the 20-year-old autistics?" Other researchers point out that
Americans are exposed to a greater cumulative "load" of mercury than
ever before, from contaminated fish to dental fillings, and suggest
that thimerosal in vaccines may be only part of a much larger problem.
It's a concern that certainly deserves far more attention than it has
received -- but it overlooks the fact that the mercury concentrations
in vaccines dwarf other sources of exposure to our children.
What is most striking is the lengths to which many of the leading
detectives have gone to ignore -- and cover up -- the evidence against
thimerosal. From the very beginning, the scientific case against the
mercury additive has been overwhelming. The preservative, which is
used to stem fungi and bacterial growth in vaccines, contains ethylmercury,
a potent neurotoxin. Truckloads of studies have shown that mercury
tends to accumulate in the brains of primates and other animals after
they are injected with vaccines -- and that the developing brains of
infants are particularly susceptible. In 1977, a Russian study found
that adults exposed to much lower concentrations of ethylmercury than
those given to American children still suffered brain damage years
later. Russia banned thimerosal from children's vaccines 20 years ago,
and Denmark, Austria, Japan, Great Britain and all the Scandinavian
countries have since followed suit.
"You couldn't even construct a study that shows thimerosal is safe," says
Haley, who heads the chemistry department at the University of Kentucky. "It's
just too darn toxic. If you inject thimerosal into an animal, its brain
will sicken. If you apply it to living tissue, the cells die. If you
put it in a petri dish, the culture dies. Knowing these things, it
would be shocking if one could inject it into an infant without causing
Internal documents reveal that Eli Lilly, which first developed thimerosal,
knew from the start that its product could cause damage -- and even
death -- in both animals and humans. In 1930, the company tested thimerosal
by administering it to 22 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. In 1935, researchers
at another vaccine manufacturer, Pittman-Moore, warned Lilly that its
claims about thimerosal's safety "did not check with ours." Half the
dogs Pittman injected with thimerosal-based vaccines became sick, leading
researchers there to declare the preservative "unsatisfactory as a
serum intended for use on dogs."
In the decades that followed, the evidence against thimerosal continued
to mount. During the Second World War, when the Department of Defense
used the preservative in vaccines on soldiers, it required Lilly to
label it "poison." In 1967, a study in Applied Microbiology found that
thimerosal killed mice when added to injected vaccines. Four years
later, Lilly's own studies discerned that thimerosal was "toxic to
tissue cells" in concentrations as low as one part per million -- 100
times weaker than the concentration in a typical vaccine. Even so,
the company continued to promote thimerosal as "nontoxic" and also
incorporated it into topical disinfectants. In 1977, 10 babies at a
Toronto hospital died when an antiseptic preserved with thimerosal
was dabbed onto their umbilical cords.
In 1982, the FDA proposed a ban on over-the-counter products that
contained thimerosal, and in 1991 the agency considered banning it
from animal vaccines. But tragically, that same year, the CDC recommended
that infants be injected with a series of mercury-laced vaccines. Newborns
would be vaccinated for hepatitis B within 24 hours of birth, and 2-month-old
infants would be immunized for haemophilus influenzae B and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.
The drug industry knew the additional vaccines posed a danger. The
same year that the CDC approved the new vaccines, Dr. Maurice Hilleman,
one of the fathers of Merck's vaccine programs, warned the company
that 6-month-olds who were administered the shots would suffer dangerous
exposure to mercury. He recommended that thimerosal be discontinued, "especially
when used on infants and children," noting that the industry knew of
nontoxic alternatives. "The best way to go," he added, "is to switch
to dispensing the actual vaccines without adding preservatives."
For Merck and other drug companies, however, the obstacle was money.
Thimerosal enables the pharmaceutical industry to package vaccines
in vials that contain multiple doses, which require additional protection
because they are more easily contaminated by multiple needle entries.
The larger vials cost half as much to produce as smaller, single-dose
vials, making it cheaper for international agencies to distribute them
to impoverished regions at risk of epidemics. Faced with this "cost
consideration," Merck ignored Hilleman's warnings, and government officials
continued to push more and more thimerosal-based vaccines for children.
Before 1989, American preschoolers received 11 vaccinations -- for
polio, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and measles-mumps-rubella. A decade
later, thanks to federal recommendations, children were receiving a
total of 22 immunizations by the time they reached first grade.
As the number of vaccines increased, the rate of autism among children
exploded. During the 1990s, 40 million children were injected with
thimerosal-based vaccines, receiving unprecedented levels of mercury
during a period critical for brain development. Despite the well-documented
dangers of thimerosal, it appears that no one bothered to add up the
cumulative dose of mercury that children would receive from the mandated
vaccines. "What took the FDA so long to do the calculations?" Peter
Patriarca, director of viral products for the agency, asked in an e-mail
to the CDC in 1999. "Why didn't CDC and the advisory bodies do these
calculations when they rapidly expanded the childhood immunization
But by that time, the damage was done. Infants who received all their
vaccines, plus boosters, by the age of six months were being injected
with a total of 187 micrograms of ethylmercury -- a level 40 percent
greater than the EPA's limit for daily exposure to methylmercury, a
related neurotoxin. Although the vaccine industry insists that ethylmercury
poses little danger because it breaks down rapidly and is removed by
the body, several studies -- including one published in April by the
National Institutes of Health -- suggest that ethylmercury is actually more toxic
to developing brains and stays in the brain longer than methylmercury.
Under the expanded schedule of vaccinations, multiple shots were often
administered on a single day: At two months, when the infant brain
is still at a critical stage of development, children routinely received
three innoculations that delivered 99 times the approved limit of mercury.
Officials responsible for childhood immunizations insist that the
additional vaccines were necessary to protect infants from disease
and that thimerosal is still essential in developing nations, which,
they often claim, cannot afford the single-dose vials that don't require
a preservative. Dr. Paul Offit, one of CDC's top vaccine advisors,
told me, "I think if we really have an influenza pandemic -- and certainly
we will in the next 20 years, because we always do -- there's no way
on God's earth that we immunize 280 million people with single-dose
vials. There has to be multidose vials."
But while public-health officials may have been well-intentioned,
many of those on the CDC advisory committee who backed the additional
vaccines had close ties to the industry. Dr. Sam Katz, the committee's
chair, was a paid consultant for most of the major vaccine makers and
was part of a team that developed the measles vaccine and brought it
to licensure in 1963. Dr. Neal Halsey, another committee member, worked
as a researcher for the vaccine companies and received honoraria from
Abbott Labs for his research on the hepatitis B vaccine.
Indeed, in the tight circle of scientists who work on vaccines, such
conflicts of interest are common. Rep. Burton says that the CDC "routinely
allows scientists with blatant conflicts of interest to serve on intellectual
advisory committees that make recommendations on new vaccines," even
though they have "interests in the products and companies for which
they are supposed to be providing unbiased oversight." The House Government
Reform Committee discovered that four of the eight CDC advisors who
approved guidelines for a rotavirus vaccine "had financial ties to
the pharmaceutical companies that were developing different versions
of the vaccine."
Offit, who shares a patent on one of the vaccines, acknowledged to
me that he "would make money" if his vote eventually leads to a marketable
product. But he dismissed my suggestion that a scientist's direct financial
stake in CDC approval might bias his judgment. "It provides no conflict
for me," he insists. "I have simply been informed by the process, not
corrupted by it. When I sat around that table, my sole intent was trying
to make recommendations that best benefited the children in this country.
It's offensive to say that physicians and public-health people are
in the pocket of industry and thus are making decisions that they know
are unsafe for children. It's just not the way it works."
Other vaccine scientists and regulators gave me similar assurances.
Like Offit, they view themselves as enlightened guardians of children's
health, proud of their "partnerships" with pharmaceutical companies,
immune to the seductions of personal profit, besieged by irrational
activists whose anti-vaccine campaigns are endangering children's health.
They are often resentful of questioning. "Science," says Offit, "is
best left to scientists."
Still, some government officials were alarmed by the apparent conflicts
of interest. In his e-mail to CDC administrators in 1999, Paul Patriarca
of the FDA blasted federal regulators for failing to adequately scrutinize
the danger posed by the added baby vaccines. "I'm not sure there will
be an easy way out of the potential perception that the FDA, CDC and
immunization-policy bodies may have been asleep at the switch re: thimerosal
until now," Patriarca wrote. The close ties between regulatory officials
and the pharmaceutical industry, he added, "will also raise questions
about various advisory bodies regarding aggressive recommendations
for use" of thimerosal in child vaccines.
If federal regulators and government scientists failed to grasp the
potential risks of thimerosal over the years, no one could claim ignorance
after the secret meeting at Simpsonwood. But rather than conduct more
studies to test the link to autism and other forms of brain damage,
the CDC placed politics over science. The agency turned its database
on childhood vaccines -- which had been developed largely at taxpayer
expense -- over to a private agency, America's Health Insurance Plans,
ensuring that it could not be used for additional research. It also
instructed the Institute of Medicine, an advisory organization that
is part of the National Academy of Sciences, to produce a study debunking
the link between thimerosal and brain disorders. The CDC "wants us
to declare, well, that these things are pretty safe," Dr. Marie McCormick,
who chaired the IOM's Immunization Safety Review Committee, told her
fellow researchers when they first met in January 2001. "We are not
ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect" of thimerosal
exposure. According to transcripts of the meeting, the committee's
chief staffer, Kathleen Stratton, predicted that the IOM would conclude
that the evidence was "inadequate to accept or reject a causal relation" between
thimerosal and autism. That, she added, was the result "Walt wants" --
a reference to Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the National Immunization
Program for the CDC.
For those who had devoted their lives to promoting vaccination, the
revelations about thimerosal threatened to undermine everything they
had worked for. "We've got a dragon by the tail here," said Dr. Michael
Kaback, another committee member. "The more negative that [our] presentation
is, the less likely people are to use vaccination, immunization --
and we know what the results of that will be. We are kind of caught
in a trap. How we work our way out of the trap, I think is the charge."
Even in public, federal officials made it clear that their primary
goal in studying thimerosal was to dispel doubts about vaccines. "Four
current studies are taking place to rule out the proposed link between
autism and thimerosal," Dr. Gordon Douglas, then-director of strategic
planning for vaccine research at the National Institutes of Health,
assured a Princeton University gathering in May 2001. "In order to
undo the harmful effects of research claiming to link the [measles]
vaccine to an elevated risk of autism, we need to conduct and publicize
additional studies to assure parents of safety." Douglas formerly served
as president of vaccinations for Merck, where he ignored warnings about
In May of last year, the Institute of Medicine issued its final report.
Its conclusion: There is no proven link between autism and thimerosal
in vaccines. Rather than reviewing the large body of literature describing
the toxicity of thimerosal, the report relied on four disastrously
flawed epidemiological studies examining European countries, where
children received much smaller doses of thimerosal than American kids.
It also cited a new version of the Verstraeten study, published in
the journal Pediatrics, that had been reworked to reduce the link between
thimerosal and autism. The new study included children too young to
have been diagnosed with autism and overlooked others who showed signs
of the disease. The IOM declared the case closed and -- in a startling
position for a scientific body -- recommended that no further research
The report may have satisfied the CDC, but it convinced no one. Rep.
David Weldon, a Republican physician from Florida who serves on the
House Government Reform Committee, attacked the Institute of Medicine,
saying it relied on a handful of studies that were "fatally flawed" by "poor
design" and failed to represent "all the available scientific and medical
research." CDC officials are not interested in an honest search for
the truth, Weldon told me, because "an association between vaccines
and autism would force them to admit that their policies irreparably
damaged thousands of children. Who would want to make that conclusion
Under pressure from Congress and parents, the Institute of Medicine
convened another panel to address continuing concerns about the Vaccine
Safety Datalink data-sharing program. In February, the new panel, composed
of different scientists, criticized the way the VSD had been used to
study vaccine safety, and urged the CDC to make its vaccine database
available to the public.
So far, though, only two scientists have managed to gain access. Dr.
Mark Geier, president of the Genetics Center of America, and his son,
David, spent a year battling to obtain the medical records from the
CDC. Since August 2002, when members of Congress pressured the agency
to turn over the data, the Geiers have completed six studies that demonstrate
a powerful correlation between thimerosal and neurological damage in
children. One study, which compares the cumulative dose of mercury
received by children born between 1981 and 1985 with those born between
1990 and 1996, found a "very significant relationship" between autism
and vaccines. Another study of educational performance found that kids
who received higher doses of thimerosal in vaccines were nearly three
times as likely to be diagnosed with autism and more than three times
as likely to suffer from speech disorders and mental retardation. Another
soon-to-be-published study shows that autism rates are in decline following
the recent elimination of thimerosal from most vaccines.
As the federal government worked to prevent scientists from studying
vaccines, others have stepped in to study the link to autism. In April,
reporter Dan Olmsted of UPI undertook one of the more interesting studies
himself. Searching for children who had not been exposed to mercury
in vaccines -- the kind of population that scientists typically use
as a "control" in experiments -- Olmsted scoured the Amish of Lancaster
County, Penn., who refuse to immunize their infants. Given the national
rate of autism, Olmsted calculated that there should be 130 autistics
among the Amish. He found only four. One had been exposed to high levels
of mercury from a power plant. The other three -- including one child
adopted from outside the Amish community -- had received their vaccines.
At the state level, many officials have also conducted in-depth reviews
of thimerosal. While the Institute of Medicine was busy whitewashing
the risks, the Iowa Legislature was carefully combing through all of
the available scientific and biological data. "After three years of
review, I became convinced there was sufficient credible research to
show a link between mercury and the increased incidences in autism," state
Sen. Ken Veenstra, a Republican who oversaw the investigation, told
the magazine Byronchild earlier this year. "The fact that Iowa's 700
percent increase in autism began in the 1990s, right after more and
more vaccines were added to the children's vaccine schedules, is solid
evidence alone." Last year, Iowa became the first state to ban mercury
in vaccines, followed by California. Similar bans are now under consideration
in 32 other states.
But instead of following suit, the FDA continues to allow manufacturers
to include thimerosal in scores of over-the-counter medications as
well as steroids and injected collagen. Even more alarming, the government
continues to ship vaccines preserved with thimerosal to developing
countries -- some of which are now experiencing a sudden explosion
in autism rates. In China, where the disease was virtually unknown
prior to the introduction of thimerosal by U.S. drug manufacturers
in 1999, news reports indicate that there are now more than 1.8 million
autistics. Although reliable numbers are hard to come by, autistic
disorders also appear to be soaring in India, Argentina, Nicaragua
and other developing countries that are now using thimerosal-laced
vaccines. The World Health Organization continues to insist thimerosal
is safe, but it promises to keep the possibility that it is linked
to neurological disorders "under review."
I devoted time to study this issue because I believe that this is
a moral crisis that must be addressed. If, as the evidence suggests,
our public-health authorities knowingly allowed the pharmaceutical
industry to poison an entire generation of American children, their
actions arguably constitute one of the biggest scandals in the annals
of American medicine. "The CDC is guilty of incompetence and gross
negligence," says Mark Blaxill, vice president of Safe Minds, a nonprofit
organization concerned about the role of mercury in medicines. "The
damage caused by vaccine exposure is massive. It's bigger than asbestos,
bigger than tobacco, bigger than anything you've ever seen." It's hard
to calculate the damage to our country -- and to the international
efforts to eradicate epidemic diseases -- if Third World nations come
to believe that America's most heralded foreign-aid initiative is poisoning
their children. It's not difficult to predict how this scenario will
be interpreted by America's enemies abroad. The scientists and researchers
-- many of them sincere, even idealistic -- who are participating in
efforts to hide the science on thimerosal claim that they are trying
to advance the lofty goal of protecting children in developing nations
from disease pandemics. They are badly misguided. Their failure to
come clean on thimerosal will come back horribly to haunt our country
and the world's poorest populations.