Stories and Grievances: Special Education
Senate Majority leader Bill Frist Insulates the Pharmaceutical Industry From Liability Over the Use of Thimerosal
Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in children's vaccines, may be responsible for the exponential growth of autism. National groups move to ban mercury and vaccines from their children.
Playing Politics at Kids' Expense
Bill would insulate pharmaceutical firms from liability
by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Common Dreams
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has buried a provision in the "Protecting America in the War on Terror Act" to insulate the pharmaceutical industry from liability for venal actions that may have poisoned an entire generation of Americans.
Mounting evidence suggests that Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in children's vaccines, may be responsible for the exponential growth of autism, attention deficit disorder, speech delays and other childhood neurological disorders now epidemic in the United States.
Prior to 1989, American infants generally received three vaccinations. In the early 1990s, public-health officials dramatically increased the number of Thimerosal-containing vaccinations without considering the cumulative impact of the mercury load on developing brains.
Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in children's vaccines, may be responsible for the exponential growth of autism.
In a 1991 memo, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, one of the fathers of Merck's vaccination programs, warned the president of the company's vaccination division that 6-month-old children administered the shots on schedule would suffer mercury exposures 87 times the government safety standard (400 times the current U.S. government's safe level). He recommended that Thimerosal be discontinued, "especially when used on infants and children."
Merck ignored Hilleman's warning and, for eight years, government officials added seven additional shots for children containing Thimerosal.
Mercury is a known brain poison, and autism rates began rising dramatically in children who were administered the new vaccine regimens. A decade ago the American Academy of Pediatrics estimated the autism rate among American children to be 1 in 2,500. Today, the CDC places the autism rate at 1 in 166, or one in 80 boys. Additionally, one in every six children is now diagnosed with a related neurological disorder.
In 1998 the CDC's lead Thimerosal researcher, Dr. Thomas Verstraeten, complained to his colleagues in a secret memo that, despite rerunning and rethinking the research, the links between Thimerosal and autism "just won't go away."
In 2000, CDC, FDA and pharmaceutical companies called a secret meeting to review Verstraeten's findings. According to transcripts, participants were alarmed about the undeniable link between the mercury preservative and autism. Dr. Bill Weil told the group, "You can play with (the results) all you want. They are statistically significant."
Dr. Richard Johnston acknowledged he feared his grandchild getting vaccinated. But the group was most concerned with keeping the findings secret.
Numerous animal, DNA, epidemiological and other studies point to Thimerosal as the culprit in America's epidemic of neurological disorders.
Autistic children have been shown to have higher mercury loads than nonautistics, and there have been reports of significant improvements in some brain-injured children by removing mercury from their bodies.
Most of the symptoms of autism are similar to the symptoms of mercury poisoning. Recently, scientists have been able to induce autism in certain mice by exposing them to Thimerosal.
In a recent study, former FDA scientist Dr. Jill James uncovered a scientific link that helps explain why Thimerosal injures some children and not others. That study found that many autistic children are genetically deficient in their capacity to produce glutathione, an antioxidant generated in the brain that helps remove mercury from the body, a harmless difference until the child is exposed to large quantities of mercury.
Porter Bridges' experience is typical. In 1993, this healthy 4-month-old slipped into a coma hours after receiving his vaccines.
Today, 11-year-old Porter is autistic, hyperactive and severely brain damaged. He requires minute-to-minute supervision, is frequently afflicted with violent seizures and is not yet toilet-trained.
After a seven-year legal fight, the U.S. government acknowledged that Porter was damaged by his vaccines. There are now 520,000 autistics in the United States with 40,000 new cases each year.
High Cost of Care
The cost of caring for autistic children is conservatively $40,000 annually. Families with children with autism and other neurological diseases have filed more than 4,200 claims in the special federal "Vaccine Court." Some plaintiffs have also filed in trial courts.
Some Drug Makers Act
Thimerosal defendants include Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Aventis, Weyeth and Eli Lilly. Frist's newly proposed "anti-terror" legislation would create insurmountable burdens of proof for plaintiffs in these cases and forbid states from banning Thimerosal.
Drug makers wary of liability have reduced Thimerosal in children's vaccines in recent years, with the exception of Chiron and Aventis' pediatric flu vaccine. Mercury-laced vaccine stocks were given to children until the end of 2003.
Thimerosal's inventor, Eli Lilly, donated $226,000 to Frist's national Republican Senate Campaign Committee in 2002 and bought 5,000 copies of Frist's book on bioterrorism. Congress will vote on Frist's bill in the near future.
Instead of demanding the immediate removal of Thimerosal from all vaccines, and making the drug industry help defray the public and private costs of caring for injured children, Frist's bill would give the industry a free ride at public expense.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper and a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
© 2005 Knight Ridder
NATIONAL VACCINE INFORMATION CENTER
SAYS IOM PLAYED POLITICS
IN REPORT ON AUTISM AND VACCINES
Washington, D.C. - The nation's largest and oldest parent-led vaccine safety organization is charging that today's report on autism and vaccines issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) seriously jeopardizes the credibility of IOM to make an objective scientific analysis of vaccine risks. Calling the report a case of "political immunology," NVIC is also releasing a letter written by NVIC President Barbara Loe Fisher to the National Academy of Sciences on December 18, 2000 expressing concern about the ideological and professional conflicts of interest of members of the Committee.
"This report is a case of political immunology masquerading as real science. With it, the Institute of Medicine takes a step toward weakening its reputation as an independent body capable of making an objective scientific analysis of complex medical risk issues which are influenced by government policy and industry profits,'' said Fisher.
In her 2000 letter to IOM, Fisher pointed out that, unlike the 1991 and 1994 reports issued by the Institute under a congressional mandate from the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, the current Immunization Safety Review Committee was assembled at the request of and funded by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), specifically the Center's for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). DHHS is responsible for the research, development, regulation, policymaking and promotion of mass use of vaccines. At the time, she questioned whether the Committee could remain objective when assessing vaccine risk issues which affect entrenched public health policy due to the fact that (1) the CDC and NIH were directing and funding the Committee's work; and (2) Committee members had a public health policy background and were receiving NIH research grants or were employed by universities receiving NIH, CDC and vaccine industry research grants.
"For this Committee to reject emerging biological mechanism evidence of a causal relationship between vaccines and brain damage leading to autism in favor of flawed epidemiological studies primarily using old medical records is tragic. For this Committee to basically give the green light to government and industry to eliminate autism from cost benefit analyses of thimerosal risks is beyond belief because it could pave the way for mercury to remain in vaccines here and around the world. Failing to consider the fact that DPT and MMR vaccine induced brain inflammation can lead to brain damage in some children, including autism, is just one example of how simplistic and superficial this analysis of the relationship between vaccines and autism is. When the real science comes out demonstrating that vaccines can cause autism in genetically susceptible children, this Committee's conclusions will be meaningless,'' said Fisher.
NVIC has been calling for independent, non-governmental, non-industry research into the genetic and other biological high risk factors of vaccine associated brain and immune system dysfunction, including autism, for the past two decades. Today's IOM report discouraged further research into vaccine-associated autism. NVIC also supports removing vaccine risk research and monitoring from the CDC and NIH because of conflicts of interest.
Parents lobby against mercury
Pat Doyle, Star Tribune
April 19, 2005 MERCURY0419
When Nancy Hokkanen was told a few years ago that her son had autism, she sought answers. Using the Internet, she eventually concluded the boy was a victim of mercury poisoning caused by a preservative in his vaccinations.
She joined forces with a group of parents that advocates prohibiting the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. They have been persistent but not persuasive in bringing their cause to the Legislature.
"It is a passionate crusade, but it is a scientific crusade as well," Hokkanen said last week. Others say the movement is more passion than science.
"They believe deeply that there is significant danger," said Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, chairman of the House Health Policy and Finance Committee. "I just don't see the hard evidence."
The weight of evidence shows no linkage between thimerosal and autism, according to a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
"Five large epidemiological studies conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden since 2001 consistently provided evidence that there is no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism," the institute said.
The Minnesota Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reached similar conclusions.
"There is no convincing evidence of harm caused by small amounts of thimerosal in vaccines, except insofar as it might contribute to minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site," the Health Department said in January.
Those reports didn't stop some parents of autistic children from pressing this year for a ban on vaccines containing thimerosal in Minnesota. Exceptions would be made if a mercury-free vaccine wasn't readily available.
Bills in the House and Senate have failed to advance. The Senate version stalled in the Health and Family Security Committee, chaired by Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, who sponsored it.
Lourey said last week that she was initially skeptical about efforts to prohibit thimerosal but was won over by accounts of a constituent and other parents who believe thimerosal harmed their children.
Efforts in other states to restrict vaccines containing mercury, coupled with "the intense belief of parents, is going to trigger a deeper look," she said. "People are going to have to just say, 'OK, if we're going to err, let's err on the side of caution.' "
Thimerosal contains ethylmercury and has been used as a preservative in some vaccines since the 1930s. The American Academy of Pediatrics, vaccine manufacturers and government health officials say thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure and so parents won't be needlessly frightened.
Thimerosal has been eliminated from nearly all vaccines. Routine vaccines for children 6 or younger contain no thimerosal or a trace amount remaining after the manufacturing process, according to the Health Department. Tetanus booster and influenza vaccines routinely given to children older than 6 can contain thimerosal.
Aggie Leitheiser, assistant commissioner of health, said thimerosal-free tetanus shots are available for children over 6 but are more expensive and buying them would result in a reduction in the number of doses available for uninsured children from federally funded public health programs. For instance, thimerosal-free tetanus shots for children over 6 would cost an additional $400,000 a year at the levels administered in Minnesota, depriving 25,000 children of vaccinations, she said.
A leader of the anti-thimerosal movement is Jerri Johnson, a nurse and president of the Minnesota Natural Health Coalition, an alternative medicine advocacy group. She practices homeopathy, one form of holistic or alternative health care.
Johnson and other opponents say reports of major health organizations are flawed or inconclusive because they have not focused enough attention on children considered most vulnerable to autism. The critics cite reviews by some scientists and a congressional committee and some news stories to argue that a link between the preservative and autism exists or can't be ruled out.
"My e-mail message box is filled up daily with additional studies that allege that there is danger," Bradley said.
"I'm absolutely convinced, because of the studies I've read," said Hokkanen, a typesetter from Minneapolis who also says mercury from other sources could have contributed to autism in her son, Andy, 7. She vows to continue the campaign against thimerosal.
Bradley said critics can press their case because science hasn't proven a negative: that thimerosal can't be a factor in autism.
"You could have a thousand years of study and still somebody could claim there is still one chance in whatever," he said.
Pat Doyle is at email@example.com.