There follows a group of letters on mercury, thimerosal and vaccines. Those of you who have been following my column know that this has been a recurring topic. I will respond to the letters individually, but I also wanted to start the column with a general statement:
Drug companies manufacture vaccines, several of which are mandated for use by our infants. Despite the vulnerability the public has to chemicals introduced into our bodies, the drug companies tend to be defensive and laissez faire about the need for changing they way they do things. Thimerosal is such an example. This additive, which contains trace amount of mercury, has been shown to cause irritability in mice, and could well have been removed from routine vaccines long ago. But this is not the same thing as concluding that thimerosal causes autism, as many people argue.
To be sure, there is a significant increase in autism and environmental factors appear to play a role as does improved diagnostic sensitivity to autism. But in several epidemiological studies, no association between autism and thimerosal has been proven. Does this mean that no such association exists? No, it does not. Further study, perhaps even a large prospective double blind randomized trial, may be warranted.
In the meantime, I am concerned that all the attention paid to thimerosal takes the focus away from a much larger issue: We Don’t Know why autism is on the rise. Too much thimerosal-mongering distracts us from a true scientific investigation of what is really causing all the autism. Too often, we need to know answers right away and we (the public) use this impulse to latch on to the first explanation we can find. This does science a disservice. You’ll see from the letters that follow that I take much heat from consumer advocates on this subject. I don’t take it personally, and in fact I welcome these letters. I am concerned, however, that the vehemence is misdirected towards me. We are on the same side, after all.
Our federal health agencies continue to state that their research shows “no evidence of harm” from injecting our children with vaccines containing mercury. The press generally publishes these claims because these agencies are charged with safeguarding Americans’ health. However, the members of the media rarely note that these are the same people who approved and mandated the vaccines in the first place. They’re also the ones with the 700 conflict of interest waivers for financial ties to the drug industry. The reality is that there has never been any long-term study done on the toxic effects of mercury (thimerosal) used in vaccines.