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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, August 3, 2005

In Defense of Thimerosal

Today's on-line magazine Slate has a story by Arthur Allen concerning the continuing debate over Thimerosal.  He cannot believe that a debate continues about the drug given all the studies proving it safety.  He writes.

Parents who are convinced thimerosal damaged their babies attack the big epidemiological studies as a whitewash by vaccine makers. They're especially concerned about the U.S. study, which in its early drafts showed a link between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental problems—though not autism, despite Kennedy's claims to the contrary. He extols the studies by David and Mark Geier, a father-and-son team who work out of their basement in Silver Spring, Md. The Geiers have done a series of studies published in obscure journals that purport to show a link between autism and mercury, and they spend a lot of their time testifying on behalf of allegedly vaccine-injured kids. In the polite language of the Institute of Medicine report that dismissed the vaccine-autism link, the Geier studies are "uninterpretable." The main Geier approach is to mine data from a CDC reporting system that contains a mishmash of real and garbage vaccine-injury allegations, according to the vast majority of the scientists who work in this area. The Geiers have found a sixfold increase in autism in children who got thimerosal-containing vaccines. But nearly all the reports of autism they tallied came after allegations of the vaccine link had been publicized in the newspapers. In other words, the Geiers report the public's response to a scare as if it were meaningful data.

Probably the most damning epidemiological evidence against the vaccines-cause-autism theory, and another point that Kennedy gets wrong, is contained in the document that got critics started on their claim of a vaccine-provoked epidemic—a 1999 Department of Developmental Services report from California. Like reports from other states in the country, it shows a dramatic increase in autistic children seeking state services, from 2,778 autistics on the rolls in 1987 to 10,360 in 1998. An impressive diagram of this increase was projected on a screen at a Committee for Government Reform hearing chaired by Indiana Republican Dan Burton, who believes that vaccines gave his grandson autism. "Look at that graph," Burton said. "They are having an epidemic out there." But the graph actually vindicated vaccines. MMR vaccination began in children born in 1970, but there was no increase in autism reports in the state until 1980, which also happened to be the first year the psychiatric definition of autism spectrum disorders changed. A 2001 study showed that while MMR vaccination rates increased 14 percent from 1980 to 1994, autism intakes in California's state programs increased 373 percent. The increase also showed no apparent connection to the addition of thimerosal-containing vaccines to state pediatric immunization schedules.

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