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(DV) Dachel: Autism-Mercury Studies Show No Link





Autism-Mercury Studies Show No Link 
by Anne Dachel
April 3, 2007

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As we’ve watched autism grow to epidemic levels in the US, we have been given one hard-to-swallow explanation after another. For instance, we have been continuously told that there is no real increase in the number of kids who are autistic, it just seems that way. What’s really going on is “better diagnosing” by doctors. 

And while we rarely hear the term “controversy” connected to a disease or disorder, more and more the words “autism controversy” appear in the press. Why this endless debate over autism? 

The argument swirls around what causes autism. Officials who still haven’t figured out if there are actually more kids with autism or if they’re just counting better, are sure of one thing: Vaccines, especially ones with mercury, have nothing to do with the disorder.   

No matter how many times parents describe their child’s regression after vaccinations, it’s only a coincidence. No matter how many children are found to be carrying high levels of mercury in their bodies, it has nothing to do with the vaccines they received that contained mercury.  

The latest news that autism has been shown to be connected to genetic mutations stops short of admitting that there are environmental triggers to these mutations and that one of  the triggers might be the use of a known neurotoxin in vaccines.

Stories about the autism controversy endlessly repeat the reassuring phrase, “Studies show no link.” Recent news reports about autism give us statements like, “A link between autism and vaccines has never been proven,” “Several well-designed studies indicate that childhood vaccines are not associated with autism,” and “Large studies have not shown an association between vaccines and autism.” It sounds like all the research clearly shows there is no scientific evidence that the mercury used in vaccines has harmed anyone. 

No one seems at all disturbed that officials can’t show us the results of the rigorous testing that was done on thimerosal before it was ever allowed in our children’s vaccines. The only test on thimerosal was done by the manufacturer, Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Co., back in 1930. Eli Lilly tried it on 22 adult patients who were already dying of meningitis and by the end of the experiment, all the participants were dead. Eli Lilly said it was safe and the medical community just accepted it. After the creation of the FDA, its use was simply continued. 

Since federal health officials can’t go back more than 75 years and undo a terrible oversight failure, the next best thing seems to be devising studies to show using mercury in vaccines hasn’t done overwhelming damage to our children. 

Head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie Gerberding, assured parents, “What we know today is based on many studies that have looked at children in various populations around the world including the United States and have involved thousands of children that the preponderance of evidence consistently does not reveal an association between thimerosal and autism. These studies have been looked at by some of the best and brightest scientists across the world and in the United States through our Institutes of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.” 

Studies by “some of the best and brightest scientists across the world” conjure up images of white-coated experts in state-of-the-art laboratories researching all the possible side effects that could result from using mercury in vaccines. Despite exhausting research, they just came up empty. 

Notice the often-repeated phrase is “studies show no link” not, “research shows no link.” That’s an important distinction. The scientists in this case are statisticians sitting at computers running the numbers on children and vaccinations instead of in a laboratory doing testing on the toxicity of the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal. 

The figures these researchers come up with are the proof used to disprove any connection between vaccines and autism. These are called epidemiological studies. The word “epidemiological” to the layman seems impressive. It sounds like “epidemic” so it must be some kind of high tech science. Actually, these are merely population studies.  They’re the same kinds of studies made famous back in the 1940s and 1950s when they were used by the tobacco industry to debunk the claim that smoking was a health risk.   

David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, investigated the studies that seemed to disprove any link between vaccines and autism. He wrote, “Epidemiological analysis is notoriously susceptible to misinterpretations, and even manipulation. Two sets of researchers can extract diametrically opposed results from the same data.” 

H. Vasken Aposhian, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular biology and professor of pharmacology at the University of Arizona, a researcher whose work has shown a relationship between vaccines and autism said, “Epidemiological studies do not reveal cause and effect. Rather, they reveal statistical correlations. ... It is this toxicologist’s view that the link between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders in children has become more plausible."

The most common complaints about epidemiological studies are that they can be biased and confounding. This may have been the reason the Institute of Medicine was selected to look into possible connections between vaccines and autism. The adjectives “independent” and “prestigious” are often included as descriptive terms when talking about the IOM so their findings would seemingly be above reproach and end the autism controversy once and for all.

After the May 18, 2004 IOM meeting on vaccine safety it was announced officially that “based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine (MMR) are associated with autism.

Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine or thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only. Further research to find the cause of autism should be directed toward other lines of inquiry that are supported by current knowledge and evidence and offer more promise for providing an answer.”

The FDA, in their September-October 2004 consumer magazine, solemnly declared, “There is no link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or the vaccine preservative thimerosal, according to a report released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Immunization Safety Review Committee.”

Regardless of the inherent problems with epidemiological studies, it seems the IOM was well-satisfied with the results and vaccines had been cleared. Many members of the press thought so anyway. CBS News ran the story “Autism, Mercury Link Disputed: Doctors Say No Connection Found, Parents Disagree.” Without any hesitation, we were told the science was conclusive: “There is no evidence that a controversial mercury-based vaccine preservative causes autism, concludes an eagerly anticipated scientific review that says it's time to lay vaccine suspicions to rest and find the real culprit.” These findings were from the “prestigious Institute of Medicine” and it seemed that only “parents of autistic children who blame vaccination for the brain disorder” were the only ones not convinced. We were told that thimerosal had been used as a “pharmaceutical preservative since the 1930s,” and that “the amount of mercury it contains is very small.” 

CBS also told us that “genetics plays a role in autism, and several studies show clear signs of prenatal onset of the disorder, including brain differences at birth.” Even though “recent data suggest a 10-fold increase in autism rates over the last decade,” CBS reassured viewers that “it's not clear how much of the apparent surge reflects better diagnosis and how much is a true rise.” 

Washington Post reporter David Brown wrote an article titled, Experts Find No Vaccine-Autism Link. Brown announced, “The Institute of Medicine, a highly influential adviser of the government on scientific matters, said yesterday there is no credible evidence that either the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal cause autism.” 

Furthermore Brown told readers that the study had been done at the request of two federal agencies, one of which was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The IOM panel of 14 experts consisted of physicians, neuroscientists, epidemiologists, statisticians and a nurse and that they had been most impressed by the a Danish study “showing no difference in the rate of autism between children who got thimerosal-containing vaccines and those who did not.”   

The Washington Post seemed to put to rest “the doubts raised by a small but vocal group of parents who question the safety of childhood vaccines” with terms like “highly influential advisor” and “no credible evidence.”  

Since the IOM Report of 2004, the claim that “studies show no link” has been the continual mantra of federal health officials, local department of health personnel, and doctors, and they seem to have all the science on their side.   

It hasn’t worked however. The heated controversy only gets worse, especially with the recent announcement that the autism rate is one in every 150 children in the U.S., including one in every 94 boys.  We still have no plausible explanation for all the disabled children everywhere. 

While the CDC and the FDA were satisfied about the findings of the IOM committee, they will be haunted by the research that they selectively and intentionally ignored.  Population studies can be made to say whatever the researchers want and they’re no substitute for genuine science. Prestigious titles may sound impressive but they can’t turn science fiction into scientific fact.

The IOM placed overwhelming importance on five population studies, one of which was the famous Danish Study, often referred to by those defending the use of thimerosal. The findings in the Denmark study have come under serious criticism. When the data of study was reviewed, it was found that the sampling was flawed. The low incidence of autism during the use of thimerosal can be attributed to the fact that the database that was used only tracked inpatient cases of autism at the time.  At the same time, thimerosal was removed from children’s vaccines in Denmark, the database was expanded to include cases from a large clinic outside of Copenhagen where 20% of the country’s autistic patents were diagnosed.  

That seemed to show that when thimerosal was no longer used, cases of autism increased dramatically. The database however had expanded further to include all cases of autism, inpatient and outpatient in the country and that fact should have called the entire study into question.  
Thomas Verstraeten, M.D. was lead author of an earlier U.S. study that had shown a correlation between thimerosal exposure and autism, but by 2003 his findings had been changed to show epidemiological evidence of no connection between vaccinations with mercury and the incidence of autism. Dr. Verstraeten was a CDC employee at the time of his research, but immediately after the study was announced, he went to work for vaccine maker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). 

What wasn’t important to the IOM Committee was the science that showed that thimerosal is a deadly and damaging neurotoxin with no place in our children’s vaccines. Mady Hornig, MD, an associate professor of epidemiology and director of translational research at the Jerome L. and Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City presented the results of a study done on mice to demonstrate that even exposure to low-dose ethylmercury can lead to behavioral and neurological changes in the developing brain of genetically susceptible mice. 

Equally disturbing was the study done by Mark Geier, M.D., Ph.D. and his son David. After an exhausting struggle, the Geiers gained assess to the Vaccine Safety Datalink maintained by the CDC for recording adverse effects from vaccines. The Geiers compared “the autism rates of 85,000 children who received thimerosal-containing vaccines with 70,000 children who received thimerosal-free vaccines. The rate of autism was 27 times higher in the group that received thimerosal-containing vaccines." The IOM Panel dismissed the findings. 

More clear evidence of the causal relationship between thimerosal and autism was presented yet had little influence on the minds of the IOM panel determined to focus only on the studies that showed no association.  Scientist after scientist revealed research that showed evidence of thimerosal’s great potential to damage the physical health of children.  David Baskin, M.D., Richard Deth, Ph.D., Boyd Haley, Ph.D., H, Vasken Aposhian, Ph.D., Jeffrey Bradstreet, M.D., F.A.A.P. were just a sampling of the experts whose work was presented on the toxic effects of thimerosal.   

Parent after parent testified on medical evidence showing the mercury levels in their children or live measles virus found.  The panel remained unmoved. 

The failure of the IOM Panel to recognize thimerosal as directly related to the autism epidemic caused Dr. Haley to state publicly, "Specifically, I accuse the 2004 IOM committee of poor scientific judgment in that they dismissed all the science that showed that thimerosal is the most likely cause of the autism spectrum disorders epidemic and I stand by this accusation...” 

The science that the federal health officials refuse to look at is voluminous and ever-increasing.  Thomas Burbacher, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Washington has since produced the research on the blood and brain levels of mercury in infant  primates and found that the ethylmercury in thimerosal actually accumulated in the brain at two to four times the amount as methyl mercury, the mercury found in fish. 

For the IOM Panel to dismiss all the evidence of a link between vaccines and autism is nothing less than scientific fraud. Simply pretending that the toxicological evidence was only “theory” and that statistics prove a known neurotoxin is safe will never settle the debate. At the very least, the disparity between the epidemiological and toxicological studies should have caused the IOM Panel to call for more research into the possible link between the use of thimerosal and the coincidental explosion in the autism rate. 

For any findings on thimerosal to be accepted as legitimate, they can’t come from any of the federal health agencies, or even the supposedly independent IOM. The conflict of interest waivers for individuals from the CDC, FDA, and the IOM because of direct financial ties to the vaccine makers raise suspicions about any findings they announce. 

In the end, the official denials will never explain the number of disabled children we now have in the U.S.  When the final cost of care for so many people is finally realized, the failure of officials to recognize the disaster and legitimately address the cause will be a source of outrage.   

Lori McIlwain, Executive Director of the National Autism Association said, "It appears the IOM's admitted fear of an undermined vaccination program has led to this decision, not scientific evidence."  

“The IOM has not only compromised their integrity and independence but also failed the American public, especially mercury-injured children with autism, by towing the CDC, FDA, vaccine industry line,” stated Lyn Redwood of SafeMinds. 

Dr. Mark Geier summed up his outrage over the IOM Panel’s findings, “What’s occurring here is a cover up under the guise of protecting the vaccine program. And I’m for the vaccine program. You keep covering it up and you’re not going to have a vaccine program.”  

Anne McElroy Dachel of Chippewa Falls, WI is a member of A-CHAMP (Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning) and the National Autism Association (NAA). She can be reached at:

Other Articles by Anne Dachel

* The Search for the Elusive Autism Genes