Autism and Mercury: Truth and Consequences

We have not seen in our time a more controversial public health issue than the mercury-autism dispute. The July 20th “Power of Truth” rally in Washington, D.C., coupled with the CDC/FDA/NIH/AMA July 19th press conference has brought the debate to a frothing boil.

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This is a debate with seemingly no middle ground. We have, on one hand, parent-led groups such as Safe Minds condemning vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, as the cause of the autism epidemic. In the other corner, we have the U.S. government alphabet-soup noted above, supported by the Institute of Medicine’s 2004 decree, claiming that there is no link between vaccine-inflicted mercury and developmental disorders. Where does the truth lie?

To understand the theory behind mercury’s purported role in autism’s rise, I suggest reading Sallie Bernard’s treatise, “Autism: a novel form of mercury poisoning.” Since then, a select group of researchers, including Geier and Geier, and the Autism Research Institute, have repeatedly testified that the rise in autism correlates with, and is a direct result of, the increased exposure of infants to thimerosal in the 1990’s. The many parent-led groups that supported the “Power of Truth” rally include NoMercury.org, Moms Against Mercury and, naturally, Dads Against Mercury. These are not radical anti-vaccine groups; in fact, these groups simply state their purpose as promoting safer vaccine policy. Anyone interested in a more complete understanding of the issue should peruse these sites.

You may also be interested in two recent publications stirring the pot: one by environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the other by N.Y. Times reporter David Kirby. They both take the argument a step further, postulating that our government and the pharmaceutical industry knowingly covered up “Evidence of Harm.”

For completeness, and to really get the whole picture, you must also read each and every source the Institute of Medicine reviewed during its hearings. You can find these here. Also, read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ rebuttal of Geier and Geier’s analysis (link above) refuting the original Versraeten article published in Pediatrics. There is no way to a clear picture – it is muddy, and it’s going to be a while, if ever, that we know the truth.

Of course, there’s misinformation spread by both sides as well. Some high-ranking physicians continue to claim that routine pediatric vaccinations no longer contain thimerosal. That is false. Most of the flu vaccine supply, even for this year upcoming, contains significant amounts of thimerosal. This is clear from the FDA’s own site. Also, few pediatricians I speak with know that there is a preservative-free version available as well. And is mercury the sole cause of the autism epidemic? No, of course not. A multitude of environmental factors have surely contributed to increasing the incidence of autism in those at genetic risk. Still, it is curious that as thimerosal has been nearly eliminated from use in vaccines for infants, we are hearing reports, for the first time in years, of a leveling-off in new cases of autism.

Confused? It’s easy to see why the media presents only two sides to the public: For or Against. I know, the middle is not sexy press. But it’s certainly where the truth lies.

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