One of the highlights of being out and about talking about our new book (“The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Man-made Epidemic,” co-authored with Mark Blaxill) has been meeting so many people who have followed our reporting and posts over many years – and have tried to bring concerns about mercury to the attention of public health officials and the media. Our main purpose in writing and promoting the book is to share what we think is powerful evidence that mercury is a major player in the autism epidemic – in effect, to help empower a critically important social movement seeking urgent reform. So connecting with others engaged in the same mission is tremendously gratifying and energizing.
One such person is Megan Allen of Meadowbrook, Pa., who we met when we spoke to a TACA group in Newtown Square. Afterwards, she forwarded me some correspondence she had five years ago with the CDC that is worth sharing in detail, because it shows how coldly resistant, and for how long, the agency has been to anything that counters its party line – that putting mercury in vaccines for babies and pregnant women is a really good thing, that the definitive data is in, and that people who think otherwise are an annoyance to be swatted away as brusquely as possible, not citizens with first-hand observations and fresh ideas that deserve serious consideration.
Megan has twin boys, now 12, who are on the autism spectrum, and two other children, a boy age 14 and a girl age 8. She is a bureaucratic mercury-in-medicine defender’s worst nightmare. She has a BS in Childhood Studies, and her husband, Justin, has a Master’s Degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology and is a patent attorney. As Megan explained to me, “It wasn't until reading an article in Mothering Magazine on Thimerosal in 2002 that we first began to question the safety of vaccines. In fact, I even called one of my best friends ‘crazy’ in the late 90's when we both had our first babies, and she decided to keep him from getting any shots whatsoever. Now, we have gone in the opposite direction and will not allow our kids to receive a vaccination until we see adequate data that they are safe. For now, at least while they are minors, that means ‘never.’”
The e-mails Megan sent me are from January 2006 when, based on her own concerns about the safety of mercury in vaccines, she wrote the CDC to tell them about articles I had written in 2005. That’s when I started The Age of Autism column at United Press International. In that first year, in retrospect, I covered a lot of territory, identifying the first child ever diagnosed with autism and describing his remarkable recovery after being treated with gold salts for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis – a fact lost to medical history and still studiously ignored by the medical industry and its pharma-dependent media allies. Also – and this is what Megan focused on – I had begun looking for autism in communities like the Amish, the Homefirst family medical practice in Chicago, and the home-schooled. There seemed to be less autism, and one fact that was inescapable was these populations were also less vaccinated.
My unofficial and low-powered research didn’t prove anything, but it did raise interesting questions and provoked a pretty strong reaction among those who were concerned that the big increase in mercury-containing vaccines in the 1990s was the trigger for the huge rise in autism cases at the same time.
This, among other things, is what Megan tried to call to the CDC’s attention. On Jan. 14, 2006, she e-mailed the information office at the National Immunization Program as follows:
I am interested in the CDC's opinion as to why large populations of unvaccinated children (ie Amish children) do not have the estimated 1 in 166 with an autistic spectrum disorder, which is the rate found in the current population of children in the USA today?
I would also like to know what the CDC's response is to a recent study done which compares the effects of methylmercury and ethylmercury (contained in thimerosal) on the brains of infant primates? (http://dx.doi.org -- doi: 10.1289/ehp.7712 )
I appreciate any response you can provide me regarding these two issues. My identical twin boys suffer from PDD-NOS, and we are pursuing the troubling fact that they may have elevated & toxic levels of mercury in their bodies.
On January 17, she received the following response, in toto:
I am not familiar with data regarding the incidence of ASD among the Amish so I cannot comment on this issue.
Monkeys are not humans. We rely on epidemiologic data generated from populations of humans to generate our recommendations, and studies on humans have not demonstrated an association between thimerosal in vaccines and any neurologic or developmental disorder.
William L. Atkinson, MD, MPH
National Immunization Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
I said “in toto” because I didn’t want anyone to think I was leaving off the usual pleasantries here – such as “thank you for your inquiry,” or “I am sorry to hear about your sons’ disorder” or “Dear Ms. Allen,” or “Sincerely.”
But to get to the breaking news: Monkeys are not humans. Really? This is annoying on so many levels, starting with the fact that vaccines are in fact tested by pharmaceutical companies – although never in toto – on primates. (When they WERE tested in toto on primates by privately funded research, they results looked a lot like autistic behaviors, but that’s another story.)
The fact that Atkinson was “unfamiliar” with the Amish reporting doesn’t hurt my feelings, but the lack of interest in finding out anything about it is certainly telling.
Megan Allen followed up with another e-mail:
Dear Dr. Atkinson,
Here is the article which investigates the question as to why Amish communities do not exhibit comparable rates of ASD's compared to the current data of children afflicted with ASD in the USA: [article here]
My question: are there plans to look in to this phenomenon?
(mother to identical twins with PDD-NOS, born 11/7/98, and fully vaccinated, symptoms appearing @ 15 mos of age, developmentally normal/advanced until that point)
Dr. Atkinson replied: “Thank you for the information. Although it makes interesting reading a report by a UPI reporter doesn't exactly carry the weight of a scientific study. There are many reasons why the Amish are different than non-Amish populations. Vaccines are only one.”
Once again: Really? Not only are monkeys not people, but a UPI story “doesn’t exactly carry the weight of a scientific study”! True enough, but dripping with condescension, I’d call that. But then came something revealing – the Amish are indeed different from populations that might have a higher rate of autism and – to turn Atkinson’s dismissive formulation into something actually useful – “vaccines are … one” such difference.
Megan responded thusly:
I appreciate your continuing this dialog with me. In addition to the Amish
population, there is another known group of children in Chicago, IL who are allegedly not experiencing ASD's anywhere near the rate of 1 in 166 -according to state Education Department data, thousands of children cared for by Homefirst Health Services in metropolitan Chicago have at least two things in common with Amish children: they have never been vaccinated and they don't have autism.
According to "Age of Autism" by Dan Olmsted, "Homefirst has five offices in the Chicago area and a total of six doctors. 'We have about 30,000 or 35,000 children that we've taken care of over the years, and I don't think we have a single case of autism in children delivered by us who never received vaccines,' said Dr Mayer Eisenstein, Homefirst's medical director who founded the practice in 1973."
Olmsted reports that "the autism rate in Illinois public schools is 38 per 10,000, according to state Education Department data." Evelyn Pringle, who has researched Olmsted's findings says, "In treating a population of 30,000 to 35,000 children, this would logically mean that Homefirst should have seen at least 120 autistic children over the years but the clinic has seen none."
I am interested to hear your response to this data. Could you please let me know of any studies that are currently being conducted through the CDC comparing non-vaccinated children with vaccinated children?
I live in a small town, where word of assumed vaccine reactions spread quickly. This has led to a large pocket of unvaccinated children over the last 10 years or so in this community. I suspect Bryn Athyn, PA is not alone in its ability to produce a reasonable number of children to be included in a randomized, controlled study - or a retrospective case-control study, if thimerosal has now been eliminated from all vaccines but the Flu shot. I am under the impression that many countries continue to give their children thimerosal-containing vaccines, could these populations be utilized in a trial?
I am not a scientist, though my husband is a molecular/cellular biologist who has conducted several studies while working on his thesis (Malaria). Is there any way that we could help gather data for preliminary findings for our hypothesis that there are more children with ASD's who were vaccinated with vaccines containing thimerosal, than children who did not receive bolus injections of ethyl mercury?
To which Dr. Atkinson replied: “This is an extremely complex issue that requires large populations, very good records, and very careful chronic disease epidemiology. This has already been done in several very large, well designed and conducted studies. I have attached the papers. None of the investigations has found an association.”
To which Megan replied:
Thank you for the information. Thimerosal Containing Vaccines and Autistic Spectrum Disorder: A Critical Review of Published Data admits there is not enough evidence to confirm or deny a causal relationship between vaccines and ASD's. More studies are needed. The study I alerted you to in my initial email regarding a recent study (2005) conducted on monkeys was an attempt to bring your attention to the fact that there IS new data showing that despite the shorter half-life of methyl mercury compared to that of ethyl mercury, the latter has a stronger affinity for binding to brain matter and other tissues. This is a very significant finding - despite the fact that the data comes from tests performed on primates. Non human primates have been used *extensively* in previous studies of MeHg toxicokinetics and developmental neurotoxicity, which I assume have been the basis for conclusions made about this metal and its effect in the human body, studied supported and cited by the CDC, am I wrong?
As for the articles you provided, I am still wondering why the CDC isn't further pursuing the safety concerns of the public in regards to thimerosal. In the same paper I cited above, it states that "the Institute of Medicine has evaluated this issue and concluded that the evidence is insufficient to accept or reject a causal relationship between exposure to thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD)." The paper goes on to say that to conduct randomized, controlled trials to test the hypothesis that
vaccines have a causal relationship with autism would "not be possible."
I highly [question] this remark, as I know many other medical professionals do - given the thousands of children not vaccinated in this country over the last several years I do not think it would be impossible to find enough subjects for at least a retrospective study in our country, let alone populations around the world who do not currently vaccinate their infants. I also do not think it would be too difficult to consider confounding factors, as any good study could. This paper admits that epidemiologic studies reviewed that support an association are "of poor quality and cannot be interpreted" or "demonstrated significant design flaws that invalidate their conclusions."
Have these studies been dissected by a second, third, fourth party, or reconducted?
Dr. Atkinson, as a parent of twins with ASD, I am doing what any parent would do - questioning the safety of the many injections of ethyl
mercury they received from birth through toddlerhood. I have no choice but to try to get to the bottom of why they were perfectly normal children until they were about 15 months of age, the typical age that most parents of these kids notice regression or behavioral anomalies. I am sure you understand that it is imperative for us to know the facts behind the effects of thimerosal, if one, it is the cause of their ASD, and two, if there is to be anything done to help my boys. All I am asking is for the CDC to investigate this issue without conflicted interests, with sincere intention of finding out what's really going on here, not continuing to placate the public with insufficient information.
To which Dr. Atkinson responded one last time: “In our opinion the issue has been sufficiently investigated. Further research into this issue will probably be done but I doubt that CDC will do it. What is needed more is continued investigation into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of ASD which will almost certainly be more useful than continuing to investigate a putative link to a preservative that is no longer used in childhood vaccines.”
Oh Lord, wrong on so many levels, including the not-just-ongoing but ramped-up use of mercury-containing flu shots for infants and pregnant women, and the fact the CDC was still investigating thimerosal (their whitewashed ABT study came out the day before our book did in September, weirdly enough).
But why belabor the five-year-old stock answers from a CDC epidemiologist? Three reasons. One, this correspondence creates a record. It shows that the relevant officials were made aware five years ago of several concerning facts, including reporting that suggested a much lower rate of autism in less vaccinated populations, and that the agency chose to fall back on its own jury-rigged epidemiology rather than confront this evidence. And creating a record is important – if you read the litigation about thimerosal in vaccine court and elsewhere, you’ll see that parents’ attorneys are very careful to show when and how Eli Lilly, its manufacturer, was apprised of new studies and data raising red flags about it, but chose to ignore the information. Ultimately, that record will haunt them.
I did a similar thing on a much smaller scale in 2007 after the Baltimore City Paper published my piece on the first cases of autism linking them to ethyl mercury (thimerosal); The 6,000-word article told the story of Case 3 and how his father had been working with an ethyl mercury fungicide at the time his son was born. Subsequently, Mark Blaxill and I identified seven of the original 11 cases reported in the landmark paper by Leo Kanner in 1943, and found connections to the same compound in several more cases. That became the basis for our book.
In 2007, at a meeting on autism and the environment in Washington, I handed a copy of my recently published article directly to both Tom Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health, and William Raub, the HHS Secretary’s science advisor. I simply wanted to make sure they were both aware of these links to the early cases. Call it hubris, but I hope it was more than that: I really felt an obligation to present what I thought was relevant evidence to the people who were in a position to do something about it. I didn’t want to hear years later a comment similar to the one Atkinson made to Megan – that they weren’t aware of any such information and thus were obviously in no position to comment, let alone to act.
Secondly, and despite Atkinson’s disingenuous claim about thimerosal not being in childhood vaccines, both the use of mercury – and the autism epidemic – have rolled merrily along. Mercury in shots given to pregnant women is a particular abomination, and it depends on the kinds of reassurances Atkinson provided in 2006.
What are the real world consequences? Well, last year on the CDC’s flu Web site, it provided answers to “key questions” from Dr. Atkinson. (You’ve got to love this narcissistic made-up question: “We're glad that CDC has made a universal influenza vaccination recommendation to vaccinate everyone 6 months and older. Would you tell us how this came about?”)
Here are the two key questions and answers from Atkinson:
Is influenza vaccine recommended for pregnant women?
Yes. It is especially important to vaccinate pregnant women because of their increased risk for influenza-related complications. An increased risk of severe influenza infection was also observed in postpartum women (those delivered within the previous 2 weeks) during the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic. Vaccination can occur in any trimester, including the first. Only inactivated (injectable or TIV) vaccine should be given to pregnant women.
Can thimerosal-containing vaccine be given to pregnant women?
Yes, unless you live in a state that has enacted legislation restricting use in pregnant women. There is no scientific evidence that thimerosal in vaccines, including influenza vaccines, is a cause of adverse events, unless the patient has a systemic allergy to thimerosal
Finally, this correspondence shows why the CDC – and by extension, any agency of HHS or even the federal government, in toto – is unsuited to address the concerns raised by Megan Allen (concerns shared, the latest polls show, by increasing percentages of Americans). The CDC did take vaccine safety surveillance away from the National Immunization Program, but it still resides comfortably within the CDC. The phemomena of captive agencies is well-known, as recent events from the Gulf Oil Spill to the snark hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have established. Let’s ask Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC – oh, wait, no, she’s now head of vaccines at Merck, the company whose chief vaccine researcher warned internally in 1991 that there was too much mercury in childhood vaccines, but never told anyone.
So thanks to Megan Allen and so many others who have been telling the medical industry for years that they need to start behaving like advocates for children’s health, not bunker-mates in an agency whose initials might as well stand for Captured by Drug Companies. We’re with you all the way.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.
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