On Trial: Is There A Link Between Autism And Vaccines?

I've stayed out of the debate on the possible connection with thimersol, a mercury based preservative that has been used in vaccines and I understand is still found in flu vaccines not packaged in single doses, and autism and other neurological disorders.  I know that many parents believe that thimerosal can cause autism and other neurological disorders.  This belief persists, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, among others, do not believe that thimerosal puts children at risk.  I've stayed out of the debate because I have felt unequal to sorting through the conflicting information, because I don't believe the solution is to skip vaccinations, and because I don't want a polio epidemic to afflict our children. 


But I certainly recognize the debate exists, and many parents are extremely passionate about the subject.  And the debate has been contentious over the last several years.  The debate heated up last month when the Office of Special Masters of the Court of Federal Claims (the vaccine court) found that Hannah Poling’s brain damage and autistic behavior was caused by her exposure to multiple vaccinations on one day that set off an underlying rare mitochondrial disorder.  And I think that parents have rightly questioned the vaccine schedule and whether it is appropriate for their children.


Hannah Poling’s circumstances may have been unusual.  However, parents seeking vindication are looking to the “vaccine court” in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. A hearing on two additional test cases started yesterday.  The test cases – three test cases for each causation theory – will provide the basis for handling the almost 5,000 similar claims brought by parents who assert that their children suffered autism and similar neurological disorders as a result of one or more vaccines.


The test cases that started yesterday concern the issue of whether vaccines containing thimerosal caused autism.  A Justice Department lawyer argued that the theory has not moved beyond speculation.  She stated that the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have rejected any link.  "There is no scientific debate,"  Lynn Ricciardella stated.  "The debate is over."  

Yet, Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of the National Institutes of Health and member of Institute of Medicine, suggests that it may not be the mercury-based preservative as much as the mercury-based preservative coupled with certain susceptibilities.  In an interview with CBS yesterday (May 12, 2008), Dr. Healy stated that “… susceptible children, perhaps genetically, perhaps a metabolic issue, a mitochondrial disorder, immunological issue, that makes them more susceptible to vaccines plural, or to one particular vaccine, or to a component of a vaccine like mercury. We have to now… take another look at that hypothesis. Not deny it.“

Dr. Healy, in a position at odds with many of the Institute of Medicine, stated that, “The government and certain public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the concerns of these families without studying the population who got sick . . . They don’t want to pursue the hypothesis because that hypothesis could scare people. I don’t believe the truth ever scares people.”

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