government knew of autism link
March 7, 2006
years before the U.S. government decided to remove mercury
from most childhood vaccines, federal health officials were
already receiving reports linking vaccinations to new cases
in 1991 after the government set up a database to record
adverse reactions to vaccines, doctors, parents and others
reported frightening responses to inoculations in children
subsequently diagnosed with autism.
children exhibited severe brain damage, high-pitched
"hyena" laughs and screams, drunken behavior,
senseless babbling, infantile spasms and seizures,
"bug-eyed" looks, and the complete loss of
abilities like toilet training and language, according to
the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS).
were 83 such reports from across the country before the
government asked vaccine manufacturers in 1999 to remove
Thimerosal -- a preservative containing mercury.
government still denies that toxic mercury injected into
infants caused a huge increase in autism prevalence, but
parents say federal officials did not act upon reports
linking vaccines to autism quickly enough.
stomach twisted and turned," Acton parent Jeannie
Meijer wrote in an e-mail after reading the reports.
"It's tough to think that if people had been paying
more attention, or been more honest, the autism epidemic may
not have happened and my son may have been spared. Really
autism reports in the 1990s in VAERS were submitted as
evidence in a Texas court case that ended last year.
officials say the VAERS database cannot be used to draw
conclusions about autism because it records reports from
anyone, whether they be doctors, patients or lawyers. But
government officials relied on VAERS data when it suspended
a rotavirus vaccine in 1999 after just 15 reports linking it
to infant bowel obstruction.
already recorded 15 reports linking vaccines to autism by
would the governmental agencies charged with ensuring a safe
vaccine supply ignore so many reports and continue to put
millions of children at risk, including both of our
sons?" asked Jared Hansen, a Framingham parent of two
autistic boys. "Who benefits from the silence?"
and his wife, Marjorie, filed one of 4,700 claims pending in
a national vaccine court alleging that Thimerosal in
vaccines caused their children to be autistic. The cases,
which are being heard in a single proceeding, are expected
to be resolved in about three years. Meanwhile, the
Massachusetts Legislature is considering a proposal to ban
Thimerosal in the state.
hearing government officials spend years denying any
connection between vaccines and autism, the Hansen’s found
it disturbing to read the VAERS reports from long before
mercury was removed from infant shots.
was actually pretty emotional," Jared said. "My
wife was crying about it.... There’s so much of it that's
familiar. You read through it, there's a real pattern that
emerges. It's disturbing to think this was all before my
sons were exposed."
health officials deny the VAERS reports should have spurred
earlier action on mercury in vaccines. The VAERS data
"in and of itself is not a strong signal," said
Glen Nowak, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control
not a database that was ever designed to track the incidence
or prevalence of any disease or disorder," Nowak said.
case of the rotavirus vaccine, there was evidence from
clinical trials suggesting it may cause bowel obstruction in
some infants even before the vaccine hit the market, Nowak
said. Therefore, health officials were on the lookout for
adverse events related to the rotavirus vaccine, but did not
look for patterns the VAERS database might have shown in
autism reports also did not mention the mercury preservative
specifically, Nowak said. But he did not deny that the
government knew mercury --a neurotoxin -- was present in
rotavirus vaccine is now off the market, the U.S. Public
Health Service in 1999 asked -- but did not require --
manufacturers to remove mercury from vaccines. Thimerosal
was phased out of most infant shots over several years, but
it is still widely used in flu shots routinely given to
babies and pregnant women.
investigating a potential link between vaccines and autism
was spurred by huge increases in the disease's prevalence
observed in the 1990s after the government more than doubled
the amount of mercury infants were being given through
Institute of Medicine report in 2004 found no link between
autism and Thimerosal. "There were five very solid
epidemiological studies (we looked at). All of them came
down on the side of no association between Thimerosal and
autism," said Dr. Marie McCormick, a Harvard professor
who was chairman of the IOM committee.
confidential CDC study in 2000 actually found that children
were 2.5 times more likely to develop autism when they
receive 62.5 micrograms of mercury from vaccines at 3 months
of age. The study was uncovered by an advocacy group under
the Freedom of Information Act.
on record saying there's no effect from Thimerosal, it's
completely safe, even though their own internal studies show
it's harmful," said researcher David Geier.
injected with 62.5 micrograms of mercury in a single day, as
many were, were given a dose 129 times higher than a federal
safety limit, Geier said.
week, Geier and his father, Dr. Mark Geier, reported that an
analysis of VAERS and two other databases shows that new
autism diagnoses have declined since Thimerosal was removed
from most childhood vaccines, a finding supportive of an
and researchers who believe Thimerosal causes autism say the
government should have identified this possibility years ago
when they began receiving reports from doctors and families.
officials argue that the VAERS database is not reliable in
part because it is influenced by media reporting on certain
diseases. The media influence may be seen in nearly 800
autism reports filed since 2000.
83 reports in the 1990s came before the topic received
widespread media coverage, and likely represent just a
fraction of autism cases caused by Thimerosal, advocates
Waters, an attorney who submitted the reports as evidence in
the Texas court case, decided to use data only from the
1990s because "I didn't want it to be an artifact of
case alleging that a child became autistic because of
Thimerosal was dismissed after he failed to prove the
preservative harmed the specific child. But Texas Judge T.
John Ward's ruling states that the court could not dismiss a
general link between pediatric vaccines and autism.
database, while not definitive proof of harm caused by
Thimerosal, provides parents a chilling reminder of their
own struggles. Jeannie Meijer watched her son Matthew, born
in 2000, develop normally until he was 18 months old. Then,
like many other children who received mercury-containing
vaccines, Matthew regressed until the only word he could say
federal database includes reports of autistic children with
encephalopathy, literally a disease that alters brain
function or structure. An Illinois boy suffered a major
seizure eight hours after a vaccine, resulting in permanent
autistic child lost the ability to play and began acting
deaf. One girl less than a year old developed spasms lasting
15 minutes just hours after a vaccination. Another
repeatedly banged his head and still another was
hospitalized with "full-blown" seizures.
Manning, who has a 10-year-old son with autism, said on the
day his son was born he was given a dose of mercury in a
Hepatitis B vaccine that would be considered safe under
federal guidelines only if he had weighed 550 pounds.
vice president of A-CHAMP, a New York-based parents'
advocacy group, was shocked when she began learning about
mercury's presence in vaccines.
thought to myself, if I gave my child Thimerosal, I'd be
going to jail," she said.
Brodkin can be reached at 508-626-4424 or email@example.com.)
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