Thursday, February 10, 2005

Vaccine/autism column dissent

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:50 AM |  

As might be expected, most of the initial emails I received on yesterday's Pioneer Press column "Mercury/vaccine bill would provide 'firewall protection' " were positive "thank you's" from parents of children with autism. I did however, receive a critical response that deserves airing.
How deliciously ironic that your column advocating SF 639 would appear in the Pioneer Press on the very same day that the paper ran another column headlined "Mercury in flu shot no danger."

This page has a good summary of the alleged relationship between mercury and autism.

It is misleading for you to imply that a single dose of mercury that exceeds the EPA daily safe level constitutes mercury poisoning. Mercury's effects are cumulative.

If thimerosal causes autism, why did the autism rate only start to climb in the last two decades, when thimerosal has been in vaccines much longer than that? Why does it disproportionately affect boys? One could go on.

But really, all of this is kind of academic because U.S. infant vaccines are no longer made with thimerosal, and have not been for a few years now. Who is pushing this SF 639, and do they not know this? You aren't regurgitating "National Vaccine Information Center" propaganda, are you?

I hope you'll clear this up in your next column.
I certainly will, but when you're a blogger, there's no need to wait for the "next column." My response --
Thanks for reading and writing.

Your email raises all the objections that I had when I first began researching this issue, arguments that I made to myself and others. But the more I researched, the more I discounted the wild conspiracy claims about mercury, the more convinced I became by the science that if there were no connection, then at the very least, there was enough circumstantial evidence that the agencies intended to protect Americans from dangerous drugs should be investigating. The government investigations I read, even to an educated layman, were just plain bad science.

Yes, mercury's effects are cumulative. So are the effects of alcohol. Yet every year people die from alcohol poisoning after a single binge when they consume more than their body can process in a single sitting. The science of these two events is not the same, obviously, but the example holds. Large doses of any substance do not become safe because of statistical averages.

Just as some people have a low tolerance for alcohol, their bodies don't excrete it, some people have a low tolerance for mercury and can't excrete it. Mega doses of mercury can't be excreted by a significant number of children. As the dose size increases, more children reach the point where they are affected.

The reason for the rise in autism, despite the fact that thimerosal has been around since the 1930s, is that today we are giving far more vaccines to children at far earlier ages -- when they are still developing. And the truth is, mercury has been shown to cause neurological problems in children -- most notably Pinks Disease, which virtually disappeared when teething powder containing mercury was removed from the market.

Boys are disproportionately affected because, as shown by good science, testosterone increases the neurological potency of mercury. That's not an unusual happening with heavy metals. It's been accepted for years that a "safe" level of mercury combined with a "safe" level of lead can be extremely toxic. Dairy products, some antibiotics also increase the potency of mercury.

Thimerosal has been removed from many vaccines, but vaccines already in the system were not recalled. Some are still in the system. Vaccines still contain trace amounts of mercury left over from the production process. Whether this trace amount constitutes the significant risk of thimerosal is, in my opinion, not decided. Nonetheless, I would like to see research, not speculation, on that subject.

The point is, even if thimerosal has been removed, the system that allowed massive doses of mercury must be fixed. Vaccinations are a good thing, but if there is going to be confidence in the system, mistakes have to be investigated, admitted and corrected. To date none of this has happened in a public forum.

Again, thanks for reading and writing.
A lot of people have a lot of emotional capital in the national vaccination program. If the vaccine/autism connection is true and as extensive as epidemiological studies indicate, it is a tragedy of our own making spawned by our own good intentions.

There is no tsunami to blame, no HIV virus, no "evil doers." It's a tragedy caused by people with the best of intentions doing terrible things. It's Colonel Nicholson holding his troops together by building a magnificent Bridge over the River Kwai, and coming to grips with the evil of that bridge. It's forcing us to his realization -- "What have [we] done?"