HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, August 5, 2005

Thimerosal Update

In response to the recent Slate article by Arthur Allen that I posted, I received this thoughtful reply and comment from Jay C.  He also provides an article discussing the recent decline in autism rates in California, a decline that may relate to the removal of thimerosal from a variety of childhood vaccines.  Jay writes,

I just read Arthur Allen's article in Slate after linking to it from your blog.  I am the father of an eight-year-old autistic boy, and, like many parents of kids on the autism spectrum, I think it's premature to take one side or the other on the thimerosal debate. I certainly do not accept the thimerosal/autism connection hook, line and sinker. I also agree with others who believe RFK, Jr.'s recent article overstated the case.  Mr. Allen's article, on the other hand, goes way, way too far in the other direction, IMHO. He glosses over some facts, conflates issues (e.g., citing research tending to invalidate the MMR vaccine/autism connection, which has nothing to do with the thimerosal debate) and, most tellingly, completely ignores at least one major development -- the recent DECLINE in the incidence in autism diagnoses as measured by the State of California, a decline which roughly coincides with the  removal (or least reduction) of thimerosal from childhood vaccines.   (See cut and pasted text below with heading California's Declining Rates of Autism") The data are far from conclusive, and the decline, at least from my lay perspective, seems modest, but how does Mr. Allen get away with ignoring this news?

California's Declining Rates of Autism

For those long convinced of a link between thimerosal in childhood vaccines and the rise in autism rates across the country, vindication may finally be at hand. New data compiled by the California Department of Developmental Services indicates that, while the number of children receiving state services for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to grow, diagnoses of this condition are declining. The numbers peaked in 2002 with a record 3259 cases. In 2003, the number of new cases fell to 3,125. In 2004, the number was 3,074. For the first half of 2005, there were 1,470
new cases, compared to 1,518 in the same period in 2004. The ASD diagnostic and tracking system in California is considered to be the best in the nation.
Experts disagree about what has caused the decline. "Perhaps whatever caused [the autism rates] to go up ... is no longer present," said Dr. Robert Hendren, xecutive director of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, which researches neurodevelopmental disorders. "It's all speculation. I wish we had good studies."
Others point to the fact that the decline in new cases roughly corresponds to the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines, a process which began earlier this decade following a federal recommendation made in 1999. Parent activist, Rick Rollens, who played a key role in the creation of the MIND Institute, says "we can argue till the cows come home about what caused the increase but before 2002, every quarterly report had shown an increase over the previous year. Now, that is no longer the case." According to the department, about 90% of all autistic children are entered into the system before age 6. The data do not include children under the age of 3. "This means," Rollens said, "that children born since the time that mercury was phased out of vaccines, are just now entering the system." He theorized that the slowdown could thus reflect the change in vaccination practices. The Department of Developmental Services does not compile information on vaccination rates among the children in their system.

Mark Blaxill, Executive Board Member of the non-profit organization Sensible Action For Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders (SAFE MINDS), cautions that, "... it is too early to draw conclusions from the California data. It is certainly encouraging that the rate of increase in autism has leveled off and even shown a bit of a decline, but we need to have more data, more time and more of a decrease in new cases before we can draw firm conclusions. We need to remember that thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) were never recalled and remained in inventory long after the transition in vaccine production that started in 2001. Second, we have a new TCV problem, flu vaccine, which has been recommended to both infants and pregnant women." He further suggested that there is little serious risk of influenza to healthy women and children--that the CDC statistics on mortality from flu are exaggerated, including deaths from pneumonia--and that those who do wish to be inoculated against influenza should specifically request a mercury-free vaccine.

California's data are considered particularly reliable because the state guarantees access to special education for all hildren diagnosed with autism and other developmental problems.
> Sources:,,

For those who are interested in a further discussion of this topic, Jay notes that this coming Sunday, August 7, 2005, Meet the Press will provide a forum to hear both sides of the issue.  Tim Russert, the host will moderate, and one of the guests will be David Kirby (the author of Evidence of Harm) and one of the leading physician/scientists from the IOM. [bm]

| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Thimerosal Update: