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Another study discounts autism/thimerosal link

Something seems to have shifted in the world of autism. There was a time when a study finding no link between the mercury-based preservative thimerosal (used in the MMR, or measles/mumps/rubella, vaccine) and autism would have raised an uproar from activists who insist such a link exists.

But when the journal Pediatrics published on Monday a study that found no increased risk of autism among more than 1,000 babies who'd been exposed prenatally or in the first 20 months of life to ethylmercury from vaccines, it was met with a general shrug. Neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times even reported on it, though the Los Angeles Times did, in its Booster Shots blog.

The Oldhams family has two autistic sons. (Katherine Frey-The Washington Post)

Perhaps we are ready to move past the discredited red herring that is the purported thimerosal/autism connection and focus full attention on figuring out what really is behind the increased incidence of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses.

And perhaps parents who are so worried about autism that they've refused vaccinations for their children -- thus making the kids and others around them more vulnerable to such diseases as measles -- will reconsider and get their kids vaccinated after all.

Of course, some will argue that the fact that several of the scientists conducting the new research have drug-company ties taints the data. I suppose I'd be happier, too, if those ties didn't exist, but I can't see how those relationships might have skewed the findings.

What about you? Are you swayed, once and for all, by this new research? Or do you still have lingering doubts about the MMR vaccine and autism?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | September 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Autism, Vaccinations, Vaccines  
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Without reading the new study, here's my thoughts:
1. The original study that reported the link between thimerosal and autism was flawed, based on an extremely small sample size (and probably not representative), and wouldn't stand up to statistical validation.
2. I haven't seen anything that indicates mercury is safe for human consumption, and I think manufacturers should be held to the precautionary principle (i.e., products containing mercury should not be available) until they can prove that mercury is fit for humans.
3. A more disturbing trend is doctors who take vaccination recommendations as gospel. Vaccine dosages are based on a kids average (normal) weight distribution. If you have a child on the low end of that distribution, vaccines should be spaced farther apart or even delayed until the child's weight reaches an appropriate level. Giving a 12 lb baby a triple dose of vaccine meant for a 20-30 lb baby shouldn't be allowed or even pass the common sense test. That doctors don't question the dosage is scary.

Posted by: robjdisc | September 16, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Jennifer LaRue Huget begins this piece by telling us that thimerosal is in the MMR is an indication of just how little knowledge she has of the subject. The mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine contains three live viruses given in combination. A live virus vaccine could never contain anything as deadly as this mercury-based preservative.

Reporters for years have parroted the latest CDC study that shows it's safe to inject mercury into children without ever once acknowledging that this is the agency in charge of the vaccine program. What else would we expect their studies to show?
The last director of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, did such a good job denying any link between vaccines and autism that she is now the head of the vaccine division at Merck Pharmaceutical.

Huget doesn't tell us that thimerosal was invented by Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Co in 1930. They said it was safe and the FDA accepted it. The FDA has never tested or approved thimerosal.

This study proves nothing. It's like saying that all smokers don't get lung cancer therefore smoking is safe.

Please note that no official will ever call for the one study that would exonerate the vaccine schedule. There has never been a study of children who've been vaccinated according to the CDC study and children who've never been vaccinated to compare their autism rates. One percent of U.S. children, one in every 70 boys, now have autism. We need to see if one percent of unvaccinated kids have the same rate. It's a logical and simple way to settle this issue. It's never been done and one has to ask why.

Anne Dachel
Media editor: Age of Autism

Posted by: amdachel | September 16, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I strongly agree that it is time to focus on the increased incidence of ASD diagnosis. That includes longitudinal information on how children diagnosed with ASD develop and function, which helps every newly diagnosed child and their families understand their options and potential.

Posted by: lydandy | September 16, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I take a different view: the study was so contemptible to be barely worth comment. Prepared for the CDC and Kaiser Permanente by a research company ABT Associates and a group of pharmaceutical industry affilliated scientists its findings were similar to claiming that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer because most smokers don't get lung cancer. And it took them 9 years to produce this nonsense.

John Stone, UK Editor,

Posted by: JohnDanStone | September 16, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

This is the second of two large, rigorous, case-control studies to test the safety of thimerosal. The first study did not support a causal association between early mercury exposure from thimerosal-containing vaccines and/or immunoglobulins and neuropsychological functioning. The results suggested only random noise, with a few test results suggesting better results and a few suggesting worse results associated with thimerosal exposure: just what you would expect if you do enough statistical tests in which the real results were no effect: e.g., in boys, increased exposure to thimerosal was associated with better general intellectual function, motor coordination performance,and better performance on a visual spatial tests, but with poorer performance in attention and executive functioning and with a higher frequency of tics.

It's clear from comments here that antivaccine activists will never be satisfied by scientific evidence. However, experts in this field who attended the recent International Meeting for Autism Research have moved on, and the very few vaccine-related posters and presentations at the meeting were principally concerned with the question of why some parents still believe that vaccines are responsible for the apparent increase in the administrative prevalence of ASD, despite the great weight of the evidence.

Posted by: wakefieldlied | September 16, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Of course the Age of Autism anti-vaccine cranks don't like this study - it is more evidence that there is no association between vaccines and autism.

This study is absolutely not like saying that smoking does not cause cancer because not all smokers get cancer - that shows a profound lack of understanding of statistics.

This study shows no correlation between the amount of thimerosal exposure and the risk of developing autism. Toxins show a dose-response effect. The evidence clearly shows no dose-response relationship between thimerosal and autism.

And let's remember that thimerosal has already been removed from the US vaccine schedule - 8 years ago - and autism rates did not plummet as the antivaccinationists predicted. So now that have to claim that the trace amounts remaining, or the optional flu vaccines, are having the same effect, which makes no medical sense.

Posted by: StevenNovella | September 16, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

This is another example of a Washington Post reporter not verifying even the most basic facts of the subject they are writing about. If you simply go to pubmed (library of the National Institute of Health) and type in “autism and mercury” you will get references to 145 papers. Over 75% of the papers that involve the generation of original data support the link between mercury and autism. The papers that don’t are literature reviews and epidemiological (statistical manipulation) studies that just regurgitate the same mainstream talking points. It’s hard to talk mercury without mentioning vaccines. Here’s why:

200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste based on toxicity characteristics.

25,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose, Hepatitis B vaccine vials, administered at birth from 1991-2001 in the U.S.

50,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose DTaP and Haemophilus B vaccine vials, administered 8 times in the 1990’s to children at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age and currently “preservative” level mercury in multi-dose flu, H1N1, meningococcal and tetanus vaccines. This can be confirmed by simply analyzing the multi-dose vials.

According to Pediatrics, 52%, a majority of parents, now question the safety of vaccines.

Posted by: JoeKamel1 | September 16, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Insights from Safeminds are worth adding to this record:

The long awaited study that has been in the works for almost a decade regarding investigation between thimerosal and autism was published September 13, 2010 in Pediatrics. This study was funded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and conducted by several parties with an interest in protecting vaccine use: CDC staff involved in vaccine research and promotion; Abt Associates, a contract research organization whose largest clients include vaccine manufacturers and the CDC's National Immunization Program; America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade group for the health insurance industry; and three HMOs which receive substantial funding from vaccine manufacturers to conduct vaccine licensing research.

Planning for this study began in 2001. Over the nine year study period, the large external panel of consultants providing input to the investigators was reduced to a small subset by study end. The original large panel recommended against the study design ultimately employed, as insufficient to answer the question of early thimerosal exposure and autism rates. The CDC and AHIP overruled the external consultants.

The paper reported the curious finding that increased mercury exposure from thimerosal in vaccines is protective against neurodevelopmental injury and actually decreased the risk of having an autism diagnosis. The CDC's finding goes against a growing body of work in animal models of thimerosal exposure; this work provides overwhelming evidence of neurodevelopmental injury in infants from clinically relevant thimerosal exposure. Read more of SafeMinds response here.

Why do conflicts of interest not matter in vaccination "science"?

Posted by: TeresaBinstock | September 16, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

This new report on mercury containing vaccines and autism does nothing to calm the fears of parents towards vaccination. First of all, the MMR does not contain thimerosal. Although that state that is would kill the live viruses, they always give other mercury containing vaccines at the same sitting. My son received the pluserix (Urabe) version of the MMR, it was contaiminated with menningitis and he received it in Annapolis, Md. A data base of 1000 of not sufficient since over 30,000,000 were exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the 1990's. Were the children male or female. Testoserone binds to mercury, estrogen protects. That is a known fact of toxicology. Were the children sick at the time they got their vaccinations? Were they underweight, on antibiotics, or given tylenol at the same time as vaccines. Did the nurse shake the vaccine bottle up enough (for 45 seconds) and was the vaccine bottle properly stored in the refrigerator? Did the Mother have Rho-gam immunogloblins during pregnancy, which were full of mercury? Half of the mentally challenged children that we know, Mother had this given several times during pregnancy. So the baby was damaged before birth. Vaccines during pregnancy that contain thimerosal is a practice in the last ten years, so if this data is before that tha would be big news. Was the Hep-B given at the hospital after birth? How many received this the first day of life. Was the child in intensive care when vaccinated? One final thought, since the medical community insists that vaccines are safe, why are they not taking the flu vaccine? Vaccines has become a religion, not to be questioned by parents. When I grew up you were to give a medical professional the same respect as a minister or clergy. Now, over 50% of parents do not believe the vaccine schedule is safe. Parents of vaccine injured children a handful of doctors are helping new parents all across the country to make informed choices about their babies health. The pediatricians have not looked out for the health of the child, using a one-size-fits-all policy towards their patients. Becoming a doctor should be about making a sound decisions based on the indivual patient, not making vaccine compliance quotas. If the pediatricians don't wake up and see that 50% of our children are sick now with food allergies, autism, ADD/HD, asthma, autoimmune diseases, seizures and are chronically ill, which by the way can be caused by mercury poisoning, they will not restore the confidence and respect that was once given to them. Elaine Dow

Posted by: Mom4kidsNowmsncom | September 16, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

A large portion of children with mercury induced autism have a polymorphism in the MTHFR. The above study describes how it is difficult to excrete arsenic with this broken MTHFR pathway. My entire family is homozygous for MTHFR C677T. The only one of 5 with mercury induced autism is the one who was born in 1991 and received the HEP B, HIB and RhoGAM in utero. I welcome the CDC to study my family. I can't believe pediatricians are not screaming as loud as the parents. The MSDS says that thimerosal can cause mild to severe mental retardation. When will common sense prevail? You don't put a known neuro toxin into vaccines.

Posted by: lindaweino | September 16, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Excuse me, but thimerosal was not removed eight years ago.(even in the childhood vaccines). In fact, just today I was in Kroger grocery store where they were advertising the flu shot given there. I asked if it contained thimerosal(now recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months and mandated in NJ) and sure enough -it had 25 micrograms.
This study is ridiculous and will not convince any parents that vaccines are safer than they were last week.
Maurine Meleck, South Carolina

Posted by: maurine_meleck | September 16, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

In bookstores now
the real story behind the autism epidemic
Also can be ordered on Amazon.
You will never be the same again after reading this account. It's brilliant.
Maurine Meleck, SC

Posted by: maurine_meleck | September 16, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

"Perhaps we are ready to move past the discredited red herring that is the purported thimerosal/autism connection and focus full attention on figuring out what really is behind the increased incidence of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses."

I think it safe to assume the widespread and growing numbers of parents who are now hesitant to follow recommended universal vaccine policies in the United states .. have ... long ago .. "moved on .. focusing their full attention on figuring out what really is behind the increased incidence of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses".

The idea this latest study will stem the rising numbers of hesitant parents is "wishful thinking" at best .. "complete nonsense" at worst.

Posted by: rmoffi | September 16, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Citing the "widespread and growing numbers of parents who are now hesitant to follow recommended vaccine policies" is just silly: That's just an argument from popularity, although it could also be considered an argument from (lack of) authority.

A substantial number of people also believe that Barack Obama is the antichrist. The fact that many people choose to believe something without any evidence or contrary to the evidence simply demonstrates that people are people--and not that they are correct.

Posted by: wakefieldlied | September 16, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Citing the "widespread and growing numbers of parents who are now hesitant to follow recommended vaccine policies" is just silly: That's just an argument from popularity..."

To the contrary .. the widespread and growing numbers are not indications of "popularity" . they are clear indications that parents are steadily losing trust and confidence in our aggressive vaccine policies.

Do you believe past generations of parents who voluntarily .. most did so eagerly .. vaccinated their children did so because it was the "popular" thing to do .. or .. do you think prior generations did so because they had complete trust and faith in vaccines that today's generation does not?

Posted by: rmoffi | September 16, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, parents lost trust because they were told that MMR and thimerosal caused the apparent increase in the administrative prevalence of ASD. Careful case-control studies show that both of those claims are untrue, so antivaccine activists have shifted the goal posts to continue to blame vaccines precisely because they had wrongly believed that MMR and/or thimerosal were responsible. According to a Gallup poll, 25% of American adults believe in astrology and 37% believe in haunted houses. It's evidence that matters, not how many people believe nonsense.

Posted by: wakefieldlied | September 16, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

So .. it's not loss of "popularity" .. instead .. it's loss of confidence in what you describe as "careful case-controlled studies?

Here is how the author of this "pro-vaccine" article described this latest "careful case-controlled study".

"Of course, some will argue that the fact that several of the scientists conducting the new research have drug-company ties taints the data"

Duh .. imagine that. Another one of numerous "careful case-controlled studies" conducted by "scientists" who work for public health agencies responsible for recommending and approving vaccines, pharmaceutical industry that profits from their sale .. or .. medical organizations representing pediatricians who administer them.

Why do YOU think there are NO credible, independent scientific studies supporting the numerous "careful case studies" that YOU demand parents accept as "evidence"?

Posted by: rmoffi | September 17, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

Ah, it seems that if you're unable to criticaly evaluate the evidence, you are left with scrutinizing the possible bias of the authors. You might want to check this paper, which was co-authored by Andrew Wakefield's former business partner:

Note that the author's concluded: "The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure. We found no relationship between the timing of MMR and the onset of either GI complaints or autism. We also could not confirm previous work linking the presence of MV RNA in GI tract to ASD with GI complaints." I suppose that's because, although the first author and the senior author were were from Columbia University and others were from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Trinity College, some of the authors were associated with CDC, so the rest of the authors lied, too.

Of course, if you're worried about possible bias, you have to wonder how Wakefield could have maintained his integrity when he was paid by a law firm to find a link between MMR and ASD. It's true that "some will argue that the fact that several of the scientists conducting the new research have drug-company ties taints the data"--some do make that argument. The real question is if the results hold up. Wakefield's results have been thoroughly repudiated and his paper withdrawn, but the results of this recent thimerosal study are supported by other work that shows that there is no relationship between exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines and the prevalence of autism. Those that argue otherwise are limited to ad hominem attacks--the evidence is against them. In addition to the evidence from the US, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK, there's a preliminary report of an upcoming article which shows that while thimerosal was banned in Finland in 1992 the incidence of ASD among all children born in Finland was higher among children born four to seven years after the removal of thimerosal than it was when thimerosal use peaked; of course if you don't understand epidemiology you'll be left with scrutinizing the list of authors from Columbia University and the University of Turku to see if some of them are secretly government agents--you'll just have to wait for the publication.

That's all for me.

Posted by: wakefieldlied | September 17, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

These autism freaks (Jenny McCarthy amongst them) are just like the birthers. You can't please these bamas ever.

Posted by: bs2004 | September 17, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Alrighty then ... I guess we should run to the nearest vaccine supplying drugstore and cure our kids of autism with more mercury injections because the CDC supports this biased profit driven research ... Or, should we just wait until the Almighty Government "forces" us to do it ?? I mean what big deal is losing one more human right compared to all we've had to endure this last year ?

Posted by: smartmom | September 17, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

JoeKamel1 says:
"200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste based on toxicity characteristics."

From that link:
"methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans....
However, it has been demonstrated that high levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn."

As I'm sure Joe is already well aware, the figures and link provided pertain to methylmercury and not ethylmercury used in vaccines. As Joe also no doubt already knows, these are vastly different chemical compounds with vastly different properties.

If the anti-vaxxers really believe their stance is supported by available evidence then why the dishonest and serially repeated (ad nausium)conflagation of ethylmercury and methylmercury?

For that matter why all the lies?

Fact is that it was this constant and delibertely manufactured deceit which first alerted me to the blatant dishonestly of the anti-vaxx ideological campaign. So much surfaced after that. One only needs take an objective look.

Well that and the obligatory cry of cranks the world over: "Buy My Book(/s)"
claiming to expose a global conspiracy.
Lizard people indeed!

Posted by: AntiBrainwashingCorp | September 20, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

rmoffi says:

"Another one of numerous "careful case-controlled studies" conducted by "scientists" who work for public health agencies responsible for recommending and approving vaccines, pharmaceutical industry that profits from their sale .. or .. medical organizations representing pediatricians who administer them."

Wouldn't be simply that these areas are the ones where that have the highest level of expertise in pharmacological research and also the areas where the most highly qualified pharmacologists are employed would it?

No that would be too straight forward. No conspiracy theory opportunities in that explanation.

Posted by: AntiBrainwashingCorp | September 20, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

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