By Theresa Wrangham
I awoke with a smile this morning because victory is sweet. Our community asserted themselves and foiled the usual suspects’ attempt to squelch ABC’s right of freedom of speech and giving the average Joe some food for thought while they were at it. While the expectation of having an advocacy organization listed as a resource with the CDC to allow viewers an opportunity to learn about both sides of the real-life drama was not met, neither was the CDC given a prominent place before, or during the program. They were relegated to quick flash at end of the premiere of Eli Stone.
This is a victory not lost on our friends in regulatory and vaccine policy positions, as they are busy spinning this into an anti-vaccine debate, which it has never been.
The near hysteria and hyperbole coming from “professionals” disguised as Chicken Little fretting over the sky falling has me torn between laughter and tears. Laughter, because many of us know that in raising a stink the AAP only did ABC’s marketing department a favor in creating great publicity and more viewership for Eli Stone. Tears because of the parallels the program draws to what many are facing in our community. We have come to know tactics used by AAP and others against ABC this past week as bullying and recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing, or bird suits – as the case maybe, when we see them.
Eli may be fictional, but there are three questions raised by last night’s episode that are real. Why a mercury-containing preservative is in use today, should vaccine makers be held accountable for their products and is there a link between autism and mercury in vaccines? I want to address the first one because of the anti-vaccine chant.
AAP lied in their request of ABC to cancel Eli Stone, stating “No mercury is used as a preservative in routinely offered childhood vaccines.” Gee, really? The CDC website states “Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines.” The public should hold AAP accountable for that statement, as well as for not acting on statements of 1999 and 2000. In 2000 the AAFP, AAP, and the PHS in consultation with the ACIP reaffirmed the goal set in July 1999 to remove or greatly reduce thimerosal from vaccines as soon as possible for the following reasons:
1. the removal or substantial reduction of thimerosal from vaccines is feasible,
2. the progress in removal which has been made to date is substantial,
3. the discussions between the Food and Drug Administration and the vaccine manufacturers in removing thimerosal are ongoing, and
4. the public concern about the use of mercury of any sort remains high.
It has been shown that supply of mercury free vaccines can meet demand ,(Click here) so pardon me for asking the obvious, but why is there still a discussion? Why do the CDC and state health departments continue to drive the market in the purchase of mercury-containing influenza vaccines? Driving the market in this fashion will doubtlessly only promote vaccine makers to stop making mercury free influenza vaccines that are already being thrown out because it is not being ordered.
The foregoing of immunization when speaking of mercury in vaccines is not what is at issue, contrary to the growling we hear via numerous press releases. At issue is the promise of the mercury free vaccines as soon as possible that to date remains unrealized. This has never been an anti-vaccine movement. None of the points in the joint statement above are any less relevant today and concern might actually skyrocket after Eli Stone because of the gee, golly , whiz shuffling of feet and resistance that dog progress.
Had these 8+ year old mandates been implemented, Eli still would have raised questions, but worrying about drops in immunization rates wouldn’t have been key among them and shouldn’t be now. Should vaccine makers be held accountable for their product, just as big tobacco was held accountable? The question regarding mercury’s removal from vaccines in this instance is separate from product liability. Allowing a mercury-containing preservative, on which research is ongoing, to continue to be used in the marketplace when it is no longer necessary and has been identified as feasible to remove and of high public concern is not acceptable or ethical.
For now I am content that the issue is out there in a broader sense. It seems likely to continue to breach the autism community’s boundaries for as long as Common Sense remains uncommon and the offering of panic stricken science is the answer the public is expected to swallow. I can only thank ABC, Eli and the AAP for raising awareness, curiosity and possibly making our numbers in this regard stronger.
Theresa Wrangham is the Past President and Co-Founder of Autism Society of Boulder County and is the current President of the Coalition for SafeMinds and Director of Education Development and Conference Liaison for the US Autism & Asperger Association. The opinion offered here is personal and not to be construed as a statement on behalf of, or representative of policies and positions of, SafeMinds, U.S. Autism & Asperger Association or Autism Society of Boulder County.