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News of the Day ... In Perspective

03/6/2006

Article on falling autism rates sparks controversy

Analysis of two independent government databases shows that the alarming increase in reported cases of autism not only slowed but actually reversed since thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines, according to the lead article in the spring 2006 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

“This study is exactly the kind of thing people have been waiting for for three years now,” stated Richard Deth, a neuropharmacologist at Northwestern University (MetroWest Daily News 3/2/06).

Dr. Robert Davis, director at the immunization safety group at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disagreed: “I don’t think this study can really be taken to provide any evidence one way or the other” (ibid.).

In 1999, the mercury-based preservative thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines as a “precautionary” measure, but vaccines were not recalled and could be used up until their expiration date, as late as 2003. The total mercury dose that children under 5 years of age could have received from childhood vaccines declined from around 240 micrograms in 1999 to nearly zero in 2003, but could now increase to nearly 60 mcg if new recommendations to require annual influenza vaccine between the ages of 2 and 5 years are followed.

According to a study by HealthPartners Research published in Pediatrics, February 2006, 25 percent of reports in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) that correlate thimerosal and autism were filed by lawyers, rather than “healthcare providers.” Thus, authors claim that VAERS data are biased because of litigation (MarketWire.com.)

The other government database relied upon in the J P&S article, from the California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS), has been called “skewed” because of a change in diagnostic criteria. CDC director Julie Geberding said that the autism rate reported by CDDS “sort of like the stock market bounces around a little bit.”

Columnist Dan Olmsted writes that the theme song of the CDC as it struggles with concerns over thimerosal and autism should be “Pretzel Logic,” as from the Steely Dan album.

According to two databases, rates went up steadily as thimerosal dose increased, then turned around and started to decline as thimerosal was removed, “but so what, say the CDC and others who are on record (and, let’s face it, on the line) backing thimerosal to the hilt” (Dan Olmsted, “The Age of Autism: Pay No Attention,” RedOrbit 3/2/06).

Proof of a causal relationship between thimerosal and neurodevelopment disorders could have serious repercussions for government agencies and drug companies.

California and five other states have passed laws banning the use of thimerosal in vaccines for pregnant women and children, except in a public health emergency. Eleven other states are considering similar legislation, which is meeting stiff opposition.

Because of an immunity provision tucked into a must-pass defense appropriations bill last Christmas, trial lawyers say it will be nearly impossible for persons injured by a vaccine to force manufacturers to compensate them. Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, manufacturers of vaccines and other countermeasures will be immune from liability if the Secretary of HHS declares a public health and safety emergency. Some argue that this is necessary to build up the vaccine industry in case of pandemic influenza. Some say the provision was secretly inserted into the bill after conference committee members had already voted, a procedure that is not actually illegal.

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