Saturday, June 25, 2005
Today's New York Times has a detailed front-page article discussing the controversy over childhood vaccines and autism/mercury concerns. The article details the difficulty that public health officials have in convincing parents that there is no scientific link between vaccines and autism. The Times reports,
Public health officials like Ms. Ehresmann, who herself has a son with autism, have been trying for years to convince parents like Ms. Rupp that there is no link between thimerosal - a mercury-containing preservative once used routinely in vaccines - and autism.
They have failed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all largely dismissed the notion that thimerosal causes or contributes to autism. Five major studies have found no link.
Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, the number of parents who blame thimerosal for their children's autism has only increased. And in recent months, these parents have used their numbers, their passion and their organizing skills to become a potent national force. The issue has become one of the most fractious and divisive in pediatric medicine.
"This is like nothing I've ever seen before," Dr. Melinda Wharton, deputy director of the National Immunization Program, told a gathering of immunization officials in Washington in March. "It's an era where it appears that science isn't enough."
The Times also contains an article discussing some of the newer therapies that parents try with their children with autism; and the fact that experts have rejected many of them. According to the article,
Practitioners are using nutritional supplements, sauna baths and powerful "detoxification" drugs to treat autism in the belief that it is caused by thimerosal, a vaccine preservative that contains mercury. But health experts say such therapies are not effective and can be harmful.
Dr. Susan Swedo of the National Institutes of Mental Health said the use of drugs to remove metals from the body, called chelation, could cause liver and kidney damage and other problems. . . . .
One of the first to advocate treating autism with chelation and other therapies was Dr. Stephen Edelson of Atlanta.
Dr. Edelson said in an interview that he stopped practicing medicine last year after the state medical board censured him for abusing prescription drugs and parents filed lawsuits contending that their children had regressed under his care.
Dr. Edelson said he placed children in 160-degree saunas as part of their treatment. Some children fought to get out of the sauna and kicked out its window, an assistant said in a sworn statement.
The doctor said he also used chelation and prescribed 60 to 70 supplements a day, causing some children to vomit. Children had so much blood taken for tests - often 20 vials in a sitting - that one child passed out, a parent claimed in a lawsuit.
But many parents are desperate. Dr. Jim Laidler, an anesthesiologist in Portland, Ore., said that after he learned that his two sons had autism, "if someone had e-mailed me that powdered rhino horn worked, I would have gone off on safari."