Thursday, September 01, 2005

New York Gov. George Pataki signs thimerosal ban

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:36 AM |  

Have America's medical authorities lost their credibility on the issue of the potential for neurological damage caused by the vaccine preservative thimerosal? That’s the question raised by UPI columnist Dan Olmsted in the latest column in his ongoing “Age of Autism” series.

It's hard to avoid that question after New York Gov. George Pataki Tuesday signed a bill banning a mercury preservative from medicines given to children under 3 years old and pregnant women. The law takes effect in 2009 and exempts mercury-containing flu vaccines in case of an epidemic.

The measure was strenuously opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and concern about the preservative as a cause of autism has been dismissed by government regulators. As late as last week, parent advocates feared a veto due to opposition from the doctors and the state department of health, despite overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature. . .

At issue is whether thimerosal -- which is 49.6-percent ethyl mercury by weight -- caused an autism epidemic. While most mainstream experts dismiss the idea, some parents, doctors and scientists say it's too early to rule out thimerosal. They allege flaws and conflicts of interest in some of the studies and say too many parents have watched their children become autistic after vaccinations.
Missouri, Delaware, Illinois, California and Iowa have passed similar bans, and legislation is pending in 14 states from Florida to Washington, including Minnesota. A bill introduced by Sen. Becky Lourey, SF0639, was heard in the Sen. Health and Family Security committee and was “laid on the table,” essentially ending discussion for the session.

In the House, Rep. Laura Brod sponsored the companion bill, HF1505, which garnered over 20 co-sponsors. The bill was heard by the House Health Policy and Finance Committee, but was not brought to a vote at the end of the session (my speculation in deference to the fact that the Senate committee failed to recommend it).

[Update:] Regarding the affect that the New York bill will have on the efforts to pas such a bill in Minnesota, Rep. Brod noted that any time asuch a bill is passed -- three since the end of the Minnesota legislature -- it increases momentum for the effort in our state. It also provides an additional source of research for Brod, who's spent and is spending a lot of time between sessions investigating the legislative actions in states that have passed mercury-ban bills, meeting with key legislative leaders to explain her bill and meeting with opponents of the bill to better understand their opposition.

"It's a complex subject, and I don't pretend to have all the biological and epidemiological answers,” said Brod. “But I try to bring it back to a common sense perspective. We have to do what is right to protect kids.” [End Updated]

Thimerosal was a component of many childhood vaccines until it was phased out beginning in 1999 at the urging of, among others, the pediatrics group. It’s important to note (see update here) that this phase out was a recommendation, not a mandate, and was carried out at varied rates by vaccine manufacturers across their product lines. In other words, there is no one date when thimerosal was removed from all vaccines. There was no general recall of thimerosal-containing vaccines, some with shelf lives of 3 years or more.

Some manufacturers did not get FDA approval to begin manufacturing thimerosal-free versions of their products until 2003 and 2004. That would mean that any vaccines they produced in 2003 and even as late as early 2005 might contain thimerosal.

Olmsted notes that despite support for the earlier recommendation to remove thimerosal, as states moved to ban the substance in childhood vaccines and in medicine for expectant mothers, the pediatricians have objected, citing evidence that it has not harmed anyone. The pediatricians say a ban just reinforces the discredited idea that thimerosal is toxic and might scare parents away from vaccinating their kids. Thimerosal's opponents argue such logic shows why mercury stayed in vaccines so long in the first place: Doctors can't face the prospect they caused harm to children and are still in denial.

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent an alert to its members asking the to write urging Gov. Pataki to veto the bill.

The AAP alert follows the form of the arguments made against the Minnesota legislation. It reflects both arrogance and a somewhat frightening proposition that individuals ought to surrender “informed consent” to government mandated programs established for their own good. Note that nowhere in the alert is there an expressed concern for the safety of any individual child. Collective benefit is “good” that takes priority.

Has the medical industry lost credibility on this issue they describe as “junk science”? It has been and continues to be my contention that even if it proves that there is absolutely no connection between thimerosal and the rise in the number of reported cases of autism, government health agencies have failed their main charge of ensuring public safety vis a vis immunization and failed miserably when it comes to reassuring the public of that safety.

The fact that government health agencies are relying primarily on retrospective epidemiological data to support their case indicates a lack of safety data on the effects of increasing the vaccination schedule for infants and children, and consequently increasing levels of mercury exposure well beyond standard safety guidelines. The inability of government health agencies to counter what was at first claims by a handful of parents and subsequent interest in the issue by highly credible research universities further indicates that health agencies are losing whatever credibility they had on this issue. Arrogance does not help the government’s cause.

Other articles by Dan Olmsted in the "Age of Autism" series:

The Age of Autism: Rep. wants Amish study (July 19, 2005) -- A U.S. Congressman who is a medical doctor said Tuesday he will seek funding to study the autism rate among the largely unvaccinated Amish. I want ... > full story

The Age of Autism: 'The Times' vs. parents (July 11, 2005) -- Last week this column critiqued a June 25 article in The New York Times, On Autism's Cause, It's Parents vs. Research. Subsequently we were ... > full story

The Age of Autism: One in 15,000 Amish (June 8, 2005) -- The autism rate for U.S. children is 1 in 166, according to the federal government. The autism rate for the Amish around Middlefield, Ohio, is 1 in ... > full story

The Age of Autism: Heavy metal (May 24, 2005) -- Parents of autistic children Tuesday launched an organization called Generation Rescue based on their conviction that flushing mercury out of ... > full story

The Age of Autism: Mercury and the Amish (May 20, 2005) -- The cases of autism among the Amish that I've identified over the past several weeks appear to have at least one link -- a link made of ... > full story