February 12, 2013 – A few bloggers from inside and outside the autism community recently took potshots at efforts by SafeMinds to increase awareness in Congress of the causes of the autism epidemic including the role of vaccines. SafeMinds offers the following response to these divisive comments. We are proud of our record and accomplishments working with Congress in the past 12 years and our refusal to back off from uncomfortable topics like vaccines.
Over the years, SafeMinds has established a professional relationship with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (COGR) due to its ongoing interest in autism. Since 2000, six SafeMinds board members have testified before COGR, its precursors or subcommittees, in hearings regarding mercury, vaccines and the autism epidemic. The most recent hearing took place on November 29, 2012. SafeMinds was asked to testify and Mark Blaxill represented us. We consider this hearing to be a positive step forward. The feedback on the hearing that we received both publicly and privately was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Due to the efforts of parents who brought their injured children to the hearing room, Committee members got a firsthand look at the devastation impacting hundreds of thousands. Several Representatives commented on how many constituent families had been in touch with them about the hearing – many of them mentioning vaccine injury specifically. Members were able to see for themselves how ineffectual Federal agencies have been. Vaccines and autism were linked repeatedly in the congressional record.
Still, critical comments have surfaced about SafeMinds and this hearing. Those which deserve a response have come from Dr. Brian Hooker and Jake Cosby, two members of the autism community whose long-standing contributions to critiquing the government's response to autism's causes have been valued and important. When SafeMinds became aware of their allegations that our organization inappropriately represented ourselves and used undue influence with congressional staff at the COGR to create desired outcomes for this hearing, we immediately began an investigation.
Brian spoke to us directly and expressed his concern that we maneuvered to block him from testifying, which we did not do. SafeMinds spoke directly with the Congressional staff responsible for organizing the recent autism hearing to ensure that there had been no misunderstanding. Our contact there assured us that nothing undue or untoward occurred in conversations between the Committee and SafeMinds. He concurred with our internal view of events that at no time did SafeMinds misrepresent our organizational affiliations to congressional staff, nor did we or any of our affiliates seek the recision of Brian Hooker’s invitation to testify before the COGR. We did make a request that SafeMinds be allowed to testify on the panel.
Jake has criticized us for going light on the vaccine issue. Mark covered vaccines in his written testimony hammered the government on its denial of the epidemic in his oral testimony and reintroduced these issues pointedly during the questioning by Committee members, calling them the “Great Unmentionables, vaccines and mercury, as causation factors”. Committee members had been briefed by many members of the community including SafeMinds and Brian, so they knew what to ask. Members did an incredible job and we thank them.
In addition, SafeMinds submitted extensive written testimony to the committee for those who wish to judge whether we ignored vaccines. These efforts included the distribution of Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted’s book Age of Autism to committee members.
SafeMinds also organized a Congressional briefing on May 18, 2012 to engage Congress and educate members on the problems with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. This briefing highlighted the Unanswered Questions Reportwhich links government-compensated vaccine injuries and autism, and it called for Congressional Oversight hearings. For this briefing, we chose as presenters Clifford Shoemaker, the Chairman of the Vaccine Injured Petitioners’ Bar Association, Dr. Peter Meyer who has written an exhaustive review of the inherent flaws of the NVICP, several parents of victims and Louis Conte, a long-time criminal justice professional, co-author of the paper and a Board member of EBCALA. We did not invite Mark and David Geier to speak, which Jake finds fault with, and readers can feel free to disagree with our decision, but we think our choices were outstanding and do not apologize for them. Unfortunately in making his criticism of our choices, Mr. Crosby breached standards of confidentiality by including internal, private email segments from SafeMinds’ staff and board members in his blog article and likely shared their entire content further with others outside of SafeMinds. We apologize to the several non-SafeMinds colleagues who were included in those e-mails.
In addition to other misrepresentations in his allegations, Mr. Crosby has tried to diminish the past accomplishments of SafeMinds by alleging that -
“The American Academy of Pediatrics and Public Health Service put out a joint statement saying thimerosal should be removed from vaccines at a time when they were already suspected of causing autism and before SafeMinds even existed.”
Actually these organizations claimed the removal of thimerosal was a precaution and no evidence of harm existed. The AAP stated in their guidance report to pediatricians in July 1999 that "Infants who have received thimerosal-containing vaccines do not need to have blood, urine, or hair tested for mercury since the concentrations of mercury would be quite low and would not require treatment." Officials never admitted thimerosal causes autism.
It was a handful of parents who watched their children regress into autism after exposures to mercury from thimerosal products (vaccines and RhoD immune globulins) who banded together to form SafeMinds in 2000. They challenged the official line about thimerosal's safety by meeting with the NIH, CDC and FDA that year and sharing with them the first reported link between autism and mercury in the 2000 paper "Autism: A unique type of mercury poisoning" in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and protect other children from the same harm that their children experienced. Publication by SafeMinds members of shorter papers connecting autism and mercury in Medical Hypothesis (2001) and Molecular Psychiatry (2002) were made in order to reach the scientific and medical community.
We continue efforts into the present to shift the AAP, CDC, NIH and FDA on their positions regarding the use of thimerosal. Our current petition at www.change.org/organizations/safeminds seeks to reverse the AAP’s recent position modification removing their precautionary statement that the use of thimerosal in childhood vaccines should be avoided. SafeMinds also continues to fund studies by prominent researchers in the field. Studies we fund concentrate on cause, treatment and prevention and is research that NIH and others are less likely to fund due to its innovative nature.
SafeMinds takes pride in our long-standing record of working to establish the scientific basis of the environmental contributions to autism, for pressing for policy changes which reflect the science and parent/patient experiences, and for promoting the proper treatments/outcomes for those affected. We will continue to work tirelessly for those adversely affected by toxic exposures including those from mercury, vaccines, and other toxicants – and for their loved ones. We are grateful for the support we continue to receive from the autism community and recognize that the autism epidemic will only be resolved through teamwork and collaborative effort on the part of many organizations and individuals.
For more information please visit www.SafeMinds.org.