It was ten years ago today, on July 18, 2000, that Sallie Bernard, Albert Enayati, Liz Birt and I sat huddled together in the back room between Congressman Dan Burton’s office and the Government Reform Committee hearing room making last minute edits to our testimony. Congressman Burton was the Chairman of the committee and, perhaps more important, is the grandfather to Christian, who had been diagnosed with autism. Christian’s decline into autism coincided with the administration of vaccines for nine different diseases in 1 day. Burton had become a strong ally to our community in investigating the epidemic of autism and concerns with the ever increasing number of vaccines recommended for infants in the U.S. His series of landmark hearings, spanning four years, called public attention to the growing autism epidemic, to the dangers of mercury in medicine including a thorough staff report (HERE) and to the rampant neglect and indifference of federal officials.
The July 18th, 2000 hearing, “Mercury in Medicine: Are We Taking Unnecessary Risks?” (HERE) began with Chairman Burton’s opening remarks, “Today we are holding a hearing about why mercury is put into vaccines that are given to children. Is that irresponsible? Of course not. If someone holds hearings about mismanagement at the Department of Education, that does not mean they are anti-education. That means they want our educational system to be as well run as possible. That is the way that I feel about our vaccine policies. No area is so sacrosanct that the world will come to an end if we ask some sensible questions and expect to get some sensible answers. I think this kind of oversight will make our vaccine program stronger not weaker. Our children are the future of this country. As a government, we have a responsibility to do everything within our power to protect them from harm, including insuring that vaccines are safe and effective. Every day that these mercury containing vaccines remain on the market is another day we are putting 8,000 children that day at risk."
Minority leader Henry Waxman, who was instrumental in drafting the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986, spoke next stating that “the question this hearing poses, however, is not whether mercury-containing thimerosal should be in vaccines in the United States. FDA decided a year ago that it should not.” With complete disregard for the Chairman’s opening statement Waxman went on to say “the purpose of this hearing appears to be to publicize the theory that thimerosal is causing autism. The evidence to support this theory is virtually nonexistent. I fear that once again we are pursuing an anti-vaccine agenda in disregard for the scientific and medical consensus on the safety of vaccines.” It amazes me to this day how reports of injury and death following vaccines continue to pile up but anyone who wants to understand why and prevent such injury is labeled anti-vaccine and their concerns marginalized. Ralph Nader demanded safer cars but that hardly made him anti-car. Indeed he has always been hailed as a heroic and tireless consumer advocate. Don't advocates of safer vaccines deserve similar respect and recognition?
The hearing started with the parent panel, many of who were founding members of SafeMinds. I was the first witness sharing the history of my son who went from meeting every developmental landmark the first year of life to being a very sick little boy riddled with multiple infections, refusing solid foods, enduring bouts of bloody diarrhea containing undigested food and suffering a complete loss of all language skills after receiving 125 times EPAs daily allowable exposure to mercury from his infant vaccines.
I also presented documentation of elevated levels of mercury in his tiny body.
Sallie Bernard was next to testify outlining the overlap between the symptoms of autism and mercury toxicity along with a time trend analysis that linked the introduction of new mercury containing vaccines into the early infant immunization schedule and the lock step increase in autism. Albert Enayati reviewed the chemical properties of thimerosal and referenced a FDA expert panel report regarding the use of thimerosal from 1982 that concluded thimerosal is toxic, causes cell damage, can cause allergic reactions, and is not effective in killing bacteria or halting their replication. Liz Birt next blasted CDC, FDA, and the manufacturers for allowing the dangerous neurotoxin mercury to remain in vaccines once the quantitative calculations were finally done. She went on to explain that the vaccine injury compensation program was inadequate because it failed to fund research to make vaccines safer: "They found a mechanism to fund an injury compensation program after the injury has already happened, but there is no way at this point to fund the research to try to prevent such injuries."
The Federal witnesses followed. Dr. Egan representing FDA and Dr. Bernier representing CDC were the most vocal, emphasizing what a great job had been done so far in removing mercury from vaccines. Dr. Bernier claimed that the CDC had made “substantial progress” to date warning that if “we were to move too precipitously, there would be consequences to pay. So we don't want to move to this transition in a way that in some way jeopardizes the health of children, because we are confident that that will happen if we move too precipitously.” But the opposite was true; moving so slowly was in reality what caused and continues to cause injury to our children.
The passionate voice of Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage brought a round of applause from the audience after she recommended that the government witnesses read the “side by side, page after page of analysis of the symptoms of people who are affected
with mercury poisoning compared to autism, this is the duck test, and you folks are trying to tell us that you can't take this off the market when 8,000 children are going to be
injected tomorrow; 80 children may be coming down, beginning tomorrow, with autism? What if there was an E. coli scare? What if there was a problem with an automobile? The recall would be like that. We are asking you to do more than analyze it. We are asking
you to tell this body and the American people that it is more inconclusive. It passes the duck test, and we need you to respond. We need that to come off the market now because you think that this is--do you think that we are elevating the case today? Just wait until it gets in the courts. This case could dwarf the tobacco case. And we would expect you to do something now before that circus starts taking place. Denial is not proper right now.” (See YouTube HERE)
What Ms. Chenoweth-Hage didn’t know is that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program created with the help of Mr. Waxman would essentially prevent injured children and their families to ever have their day in court.
Congressman Burton weighed in again going back to Dr. Egan and Dr. Bernier, “Let me just say that 8,000 children are immunized today. You are phasing out thimerosal. You know there is a problem. You are not saying it, but you know there is a problem. You have a supply on hand that does not require having mercury in it, and yet you continue to use mercury, mercury-oriented vaccines. It makes no sense. You have a supply to do it, and the FDA is not stopping this immediately, I submit, because there is a financial interest by a lot of pharmaceutical companies that have a large supply of this mercury-oriented vaccine still in stock. ...Why in the world are you continuing to immunize kids with something that is questionable? Give me an answer. I don't understand it."
Dr. Egan responded, “to date there is no--we have no evidence, convincing evidence of harm from the thimerosal in vaccines." Burton countered again, “Doctor, I understand you have said that. The point is that you have a supply that you don't have to worry about, and you have a supply that you are phasing the mercury out of because there is concern. You don't agree that there is scientific evidence. If you are phasing it out, why in the world not use what you know to be safe so that the kids of this country can besafe?"
Bernier responded by touting the agreement to remove mercury "as soon as possible" but providing rather feeble justification to continue using existing supplies, “First of all, we have concerns about reliance on a single manufacturer. There are issues about whether or not that single manufacturer could gear up rapidly enough to move from being a partial provider of our national need to being the exclusive provider for the entire country. We have concerns that if we transition our vaccine supply too abruptly, we are taking a gamble. We are afraid we might lose and risk the health of children. We agree that we do not need to have thimerosal in vaccines. If it doesn't need to be there, we should take it out. And we should take it out as rapidly as possible. We have agreed to that. The Public Health Service, the vaccine manufacturers, and the academies are all in agreement. We have two, in my career, historic documents which are joint statements by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Public Health Service, which includes NIH, FDA, HRSA and CDC all signing one statement. That is not easy to accomplish, believe me. We have all said that this material should come out as soon as possible. We don't disagree.”
Again, Congressman Burton countered the rhetoric with “the point is today you have a supply of vaccine that could be used to vaccinate every child in America that does not contain mercury. Now, the 8,000 children that are going to be vaccinated today, tomorrow and the next day are going to have mercury in the vaccine. Now, if you are wrong, if you are wrong, those kids could become autistic as a result of that. Like my grandson, they could become autistic and be ruined for life. And no matter how much hyperbole you use, if you have a safe supply of vaccine over here, why are you using the other?” (See YouTube HERE.) And to this question there was no acceptable answer.
Congressman Burton’s statements were prophetic, Dr. Egan and Bernier were wrong. The very next day, July 19th 2000, at 19 months of age, Hannah Poling received five vaccines containing nine antigens—including 4 live viruses and three vaccines containing thimerosal. The child who became the face of vaccine injury and autism was featured in an article in Scientific America which stated “The girl had been developing normally, according to her parents—her father, Jon, is a Johns Hopkins–trained, practicing neurologist, her mother is an attorney and registered nurse—but in the months after the shots, she developed a fever and litany of other symptoms: diarrhea, appetite loss and intermittent screaming. A pediatric neurologist examining her in February 2001 later noted that she had lost some of the speech she had previously acquired, was no longer making eye contact, and was no longer sleeping through the night”. (See Scientific American.)
Hannah was ultimately diagnosed with autism. Hannah's vaccine injury claim was conceded in 2007 and is still in the administrative process.
Although federal representatives, under sworn testimony, said that thimerosal would be phased out of all vaccines as rapidly as possible and the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Public Health Service all agreed that thimerosal should be removed from vaccines, that promise was betrayed. Shortly after the historic joint statement calling for the removal of thimerosal from infant vaccines was signed in 1999, ACIP established a new recommendation that all pregnant women and infants starting at 6 months of age should be immunized for the flu. Today, 90% of all injectable influenza vaccine contains 25 to 50 mcg of thimerosal, depending on the dose. So instead of removing mercury as promised, they shifted the exposure to an ever earlier and more vulnerable period of development. In addition, all influenza vaccine is classified as a category C drug, meaning that safety in pregnancy has not been established. The EPA estimates that 1 in every 6 women of childbearing age already has levels of mercury that could cause neurological harm to their unborn child. Mercury containing flu vaccines add even more exposure to an already vulnerable population.
Our federal agencies chose not to protect Hannah despite “evidence of harm” presented over a decade ago. Scientific evidence has continued to mount demonstrating the harm mercury does to the brain and immune system as evidenced by several articles published this past week, including one which revealed compelling differences between infant monkeys given the 1999 vaccine schedule compared with unvaccinated monkeys. Multiply 365 days times 10 years since this hearing. How many more infants like Hannah have been injured in the name of the “greater good”? It is painfully clear after decades of asking for safer vaccines from Washington and our federal agencies that it is up to us as citizens to be responsible for driving the change and protecting our families and friends. We as a society must demand safer vaccines by refusing to receive any vaccine containing mercury. It was also ten years ago that another mother, Jane El-Dahr, gave me a paperweight with the inspirational quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Its time for change. For more information please go to SafeMinds.
Lyn Redwood, RN, MSN
Executive Director, SafeMinds
Ms. Lyn Redwood is co-founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for SafeMinds and co-founder of the National Autism Association. She became interested in autism research and advocacy when he son was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Ms. Redwood testified before the Government Reform Committee on “Mercury in medicine: Are we taking unnecessary risks?” in 2000, and before a Congressional sub-committee on health in 2003. She has published in the journals Neurotoxicology, Molecular Psychiatry, Expert Opin Pharmacother, Am. J Med Genet, Medical Hypotheses, Mothering Magazine, and Autism-Aspergers Digest. Ms. Redwood has appeared on Good Morning America, the Montel Williams Show, and has been interviewed by U.S. News and World Report, Wired Magazine, People and numerous other publications. She is prominently featured in the award-winning book by David Kirby “Evidence of Harm.” Ms. Redwood served on the Department of Defense Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Program from 2007-2009 and currently serves as a public member of the National Institutes of Health Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. She was also acknowledged for a decade of service by Spectrum Magazine as their person of the year in 2009.