By Anne Dachel
The findings of the latest autism study out of California should be cause for serious concern. Autism is still on the rise in that state and no one can tell us for sure why children continue to be diagnosed with this devastating condition.
There seems to be a media frenzy to report on the latest news from California, but no one is sounding an alarm or demanding answers. The important thing about this research is that it's being cited as more proof that the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal doesn't cause autism. Researchers are running the numbers and saying that since thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines starting in 2001, we should be seeing a noticeable drop in autism rates. Since this isn't happening, thimerosal can't be at fault.
Here's their message to the American people: While we may not know what causes autism, we do know it isn't the mercury used in vaccines.
Where have we heard that before?
This was also the news back in 2004 when the now famous Institute of Medicine report concluded that neither thimerosal-containing vaccines nor the live virus MMR vaccine were linked to autism. That was supposed to have settled the matter. We were urged to look elsewhere for the cause of autism.
Members of the press seem relieved to again report on a study that clears vaccines of any charge of damaging children's health. The latest CA numbers are predictably getting coverage with headlines like: Vaccines Post No Risk for Autism "Mercury's removal doesn't stop autism's rise, study shows", "California study finds no link between vaccine ingredient, autism."
Since most reporters covering the heated debated over vaccines and autism rarely go beyond a quick look at the information on the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, few questions are being raised over the latest findings.
THIS Chicago Tribune piece by AP science writer Alicia Chang was picked up all over the U.S. She started her piece saying, " Autism cases in California continued to climb even after a mercury-based vaccine preservative that some people blame for the neurological disorder was removed from routine childhood shots, a new study found.
"Researchers from the state Department of Public Health found the autism rate in children rose continuously during the 12-year study period from 1995 to 2007. The preservative thimerosal hasn't been used in childhood vaccines since 2001, but is used in some flu shots.
"Doctors say the latest study adds to existing evidence refuting a link between thimerosal exposure and autism risk and should reassure parents that the disorder is not caused by vaccinations. If there was a risk, they said, autism rates should have dropped between 2004 and 2007."
So it's all good according to Chang. The fact that children are still being diagnosed with autism isn't a cause for concern: "Researchers say it's unclear if the increase is due to changes in how the disorder is classified or whether it's an actual spike."
Another report (HERE) by Barbara Feder Ostrov gave us the same information. She wrote, "The number of California children with autism continued to increase years after a mercury-laden preservative feared to cause the neurological disorder was eliminated from most childhood vaccines."
If that weren't enough to convince the average reader, she included a a quotation by Canadian psychiatrist Eric Fombonne, "Parents of autistic children should be reassured that autism in their child did not occur through immunizations." Dr. Fombonne has previously gained attention by testifying against parents in vaccine damage suits. While Ostrov let vaccines off the hook, she did tell us that better awareness, genetics, and pesticides might be the real reason behind the explosion in the numbers.
The press may be satisfied that the vaccine-autism claim has finally been buried, but advocates in the autism community have been quick to attack the findings. SafeMinds, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness of the risks to infants and children from exposure to mercury from medical products, issued a statement saying, "The DDS [California Department of Developmental Disabilities] data and imprecise thimerosal exposure assumptions make determination of the contribution of thimerosal to autism rates difficult."
It also seems the new numbers are open to several interpretations and SafeMinds concluded that "the data can equally support a primary causative role of thimerosal if autism causation is multifactorial. Vaccine components and environmental mercury, as well as other toxicants, are additional likely candidates."
The SafeMinds statement also included a comment that I didn't see anywhere in the regular news stories about this: "The increase in autism cases since the 1980s highlights the urgency of the autism epidemic and the need to institute a rigorous and comprehensive environmental factors research program."
The National Autism Association posed a number of questions to the researchers concerning mercury exposure that weren't addressed in the findings. In addition, NAA board chair Claire Bothwell said, "Rising numbers do not confirm that thimerosal never had a role. We now know that many autistic children suffer from heavy metal toxicity, but body burden testing for mercury and other toxins has never occurred, despite numerous requests to the CDC and NIH from parents."
Bothwell further stated, "To make such sweeping conclusions regarding thimerosal, all mercury and aluminum would have to have been removed from vaccines and recalled immediately, including pre- and post-natal flu shots. Continued increases in autism rates are all the more reason to stop putting money into genetic research which alone can never explain what has happened to a generation of America 's children."
Rick Rollens, parent of a 17 year old son with autism, co-founder U. C. Davis M.I.N.D. Institute and member California Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism, had this to say:
"The conclusions in the study are flawed and premature, and do nothing to exonerate vaccines, particularly mercury containing vaccines, as a cause of California 's autism epidemic.
"Although the mercury burden in vaccines has been reduced over the years, we know that even very small amounts of mercury can cause serious, life-altering neurological damage. California's ban on mercury containing vaccines for pregnant women and children under three did not take effect until December 2006.
"Today, those children born after the ban took effect are between 4 months old and one year of age. California 's developmental services reporting system DOES NOT include children under the age of three years old.
"It will not be clear what impact California 's law banning mercury in vaccines has had on the rate of new cases of autism until at least 2009-2010 and later. Historically, the majority of children with autism enter California 's developmental services system between the ages of 3+ and 9 years old.
"If by 2009-2010 there has not been ANY change in the rate of increase of new cases of autism entering California's developmental services system, then we can scratch mercury in vaccines off our list of agents contained in vaccines as a cause, and; then begin concentrating on the numerous other poisons and toxic agents in vaccines such as aluminum, formaldehyde, MSG, live viruses, etc., and most importantly, the interaction of these and other toxic agents contained in the 34 doses of vaccines children receive from birth to two years old today."
John Gilmore of A-Champ (Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning http://www.a-champ.org) criticized the California news saying, "The only way to tell if thimerosal has a role in causing autism is to do a large scale, honest study comparing a population that got thimerosal to one that didn't.
"This California study would be valid only if case finding and diagnositc criteria were hel d constant and if we knew what the actual exposure levels were for the children both prenatal and as infants."
All this brings up a point recently made by Dr. Boyd Haley Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Kentucky and a leading expert on mercury toxicity. Dr. Haley said, "Our vaccine manufacturers and the CDC still support the direct injection of this compound into infants with comments suggesting that no data exists proving vaccine delivered thimerosal is toxic. The truth is that no scientific study has ever been done on thimerosal that did not find it to be exceptionally toxic."
No one seems at all concerned that experts can't do the one thing that would clear the mercury used in vaccines of the charge that it has damaged our children. They can't show the original toxicity testing done on thimerosal BEFORE it was ever allowed in our children's vaccines back in the 1930s. They can't show us any recent toxicity studies that prove thimerosal is safe. The latest epidemiological study being haled as proof that it's okay to inject mercury into children has too many flaws. It'll never make the issue go away.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.