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The 'Eli Stone' Controversy

Add the American Academy of Pediatrics to the list of groups opposing an episode of "Eli Stone," a new drama that is scheduled to air on Thursday night. In the episode, the lead character sues a pharmaceutical company on behalf of a mother of an autistic child. The TV lawyer and the child's mother are arguing, fictionally, of course, that a mercury-based preservative in a vaccine caused her son's autism.

And that is what has the AAP up in arms. In a letter sent to ABC on January 25, the AAP writes:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of 60,000 pediatricians, is alarmed that this program could lead to a tragic decline in immunization rates. The AAP calls on ABC to cancel the episode.
Many people trust the health information presented on fictional television shows, which influences their decisions about health care. In the United Kingdom, erroneous reports linking the measles vaccine to autism prompted a decline in vaccination and the worst outbreak of measles in two decades, including the deaths of several children.
ABC will bear responsibility for the needless suffering and potential deaths of children from parents' decisions not to immunize based on the content of the episode. If ABC persists in airing the show, the AAP urges the network to include a disclaimer emphasizing:
* No mercury is used as a preservative in routinely offered childhood vaccines.
* No scientific link exists between vaccines and autism.
Vaccines are the single-most powerful, cost-effective public health intervention ever developed. A network as influential as ABC must consider its responsibility not to promulgate messages that undermine the years of efforts by the AAP and public health community to persuade parents to vaccinate and protect their children. The consequences of a decline in immunization rates could be devastating to the health of our nation's children.

AAP spokesperson Debbie Linchesky said the letter was a first of its kind from the pediatricians' group to a network.

ABC told Reuters that "it plans to broadcast the episode without changes, but would run a disclaimer at the opening of the show stating the story is fictional. A message at the end will refer viewers to a CDC Web site for information about autism."

Do you expect the information you see on fictitious television shows to be accurate? What about the shows your children watch? Do you agree with the pediatricians that the show could cause parents to rethink vaccinations for their children?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 30, 2008; 7:02 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
Previous: Embracing an Epidemic | Next: Call the Homework Police!


Another autism blog day!

Posted by: First!! | January 30, 2008 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully people think for, ask questions for and make decisions for themselves. As adults we know fiction is fiction. I don't believe everything I see on House or ER because I know that is not how the world works. I once had a question about mercury in the flu shots for i asked my doctor! ABC should air what it wants and people should remember that TV is just entertainment.

Posted by: HappyDad | January 30, 2008 7:31 AM | Report abuse

I think a lot of people treat shows like that as fictional, but the information in them as truth. If People magazine does an article about the real ER docs they hire on ER to make the show accurate, sadly a large portion of the population will think all of the medical situations are true. Goodness, look at all the americans who are unable to understand that an actor is an actor, not their character. I think the AAP has a right to be concerned.

Posted by: moxiemom | January 30, 2008 7:37 AM | Report abuse

This is really troubling. My kids are vaccinated because we are Americans but the measles epidemic was truly frightening for those with children who were too young to vaccinate.

Posted by: londonmom | January 30, 2008 7:40 AM | Report abuse

The heavy metals present in the vaccines may trigger a reaction in a small percentage of children that are hypersensitive to these toxins. There are alternative vaccines available that do not have the metals, but require several shots instead of the combined cocktail most kids get. The doctors have to go to extra trouble and the insurance companies don't want to pay the extra $20 bucks (my swag). This is real - I've seen it in my own extended family. There's lots of other heavy metal toxins our kids come in touch with everyday - pressure treated lumber for one.

Posted by: intheknow | January 30, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

My daughter's school sent home a note that a child has pertussis (whooping cough). It strikes me that it's possible there are some parents who have an exemption for vaccinating their children.

Most of them don't realize that they're benefitting from vaccinations of the rest of the world -- herd immunity.

I think some parents are desperate to find the cause of autism, because they want to believe that they can CONTROL it. Americans like to believe in cause and effect, and the idea that we can fix everything.

My nephew has developmental delays -- it's unclear whether he's autistic or has some other issues. But, the main point is that whatever the label is, he needs help.

In his case, could it be diet? A difficult birth? No one knows yet. For him, however, the cause is nearly irrelevant, since he needs speech and occupational therapy, a lot of one-on-one help, and help with managing his impulses.

Posted by: readerny | January 30, 2008 7:50 AM | Report abuse

I don't think Stacey meant for this to be an autism blog. But I do think there are people out there that can't separate the story line and the actual facts. Of course as adults, they should be able to, but for whatever reason they can't. Even fictional stories can lead to questions. Overall, I do think the show can do some responsible actions to minimize the damage. Like at each commercial break, run a small bit about how this is a fictional story and there is no proven link to vaccines and rates of autism. That being said, there are a % of adults who will believe there is a link whether the show exists or not. See yesterday's blog for evidence of that. The problem with this particular issue is parents are desparate (on average) and panicked. They want to find a cure or a reason. My personal belief, with not a lot of scientific evidence to prove it, is that what is now being called autism spectrum disorder is a series of different closely related learning and social interaction disorder. Therefore I doubt there is one root cause. Again autism is being diagnosed by a series of symptoms. I can tell you my daughter had a speech delay at age 2 and now at just 4 speaks in full sentences and has a notable social interaction delay. She is still parallel playing with her peers. She does seem to be highly frightened of strangers and introverted. But that is it. She is considered on the autism spectrum. That is very different then the kids who are flapping, can't communicate, make weird noises etc... My general guess is they have similar symptoms but a different source. I also, unlike a lot of parents, believe some autistic type traits are probably genetic. I don't know why that offends people but it seems to. I see a lot of similar traits in my daughter that my mother saw in me. Just not on the same magnitude. But back to the show, it probably doesn't matter because the parents that want to believe it is caused from vaccines (mercury), gluetin/casin (sp?)/or whatever are going to believe it no matter what evidence is shown to them. I even had a neighbor ask me to stop using dryer sheets because he was afraid is kids were going to "catch" autism from the dryer sheets. He is totally convinced that is what caused my daughter's learning delays. Another neighbor told me that she thinks my daughter has autsim because she once witness my daughter hit her head mildly at the play ground. Hmm...

Posted by: foamgnome | January 30, 2008 8:03 AM | Report abuse

given the way that many overreact to other stories and reports (leading to the overuse of things like antibacterial soaps and banning of things like trans fats), I wouldn't be at all surprised if this show caused an uproar. Seems that Americans are not all that good at weighing evidence and making small adjustments based on that evidence. No, instead we immediately set out to "fix" everything.

Posted by: jen | January 30, 2008 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I think the most insidious part of the show is that the suit is about Thirmesol preservative causing autism and then it comes out that the head of the vaccine company admits he didn't vaccinate this own son because of it. So the family wins a big award because they "proved" that that preservative causes autism.

Thirmesol has not been in childhood vaccinations since the 1980s. Only one that has a trace amount is flu shot. So if it's not in vaccines, why does everyone insist there's a link?

People love conspiracies (so they can blame or control the uncontrollable world). I can't tell you the number of (seemingly normal) people that insist that doctors don't vaccinate their kids because "they" know it causes autism. Well, I'm a doctor's kid and we ALL had vaccinations. Those childhood diseases are WAY worse than the shots. Anyone see a kid die of Diphtheria? I have when I worked overseas. It is horrid.

I agree with Foamgnome that there's a big genetic component to autism-type behavior. When my Dad was a child, he was almost sent to an asylum as an "idiot savant" -- this is a man who later became a very respected doctor and researcher. But he didn't talk until he was 4, had social/emotional problems, etc. I see the same issues in my 3 year old -- could be autism, could be something "on the spectrum", but he isn't what anyone would consider a normal 3 year old. Then again, neither was Grandpa, so maybe he'll outgrow it (although we are providing a lot of therapy along the way).

Posted by: beta | January 30, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

"My daughter's school sent home a note that a child has pertussis (whooping cough). It strikes me that it's possible there are some parents who have an exemption for vaccinating their children. "

FWIW, vaccines are nowhere near 100% effective. Most of the kids who come down with pertussis have actually been immunized.

And yes, it is possible in almost all states to get a religious exemption to vaccines.

Posted by: reston, va | January 30, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

In general, the population is stupid. The people on this blog happen (in my opinion) to be on the smarter end of society.

When the population sees something on TV, they think it is fact - like Saddam was behind 9/11.

Posted by: anon for this | January 30, 2008 8:40 AM | Report abuse

The vaccination debate is a tough one for me. I personally think that people have forgotten what the REAL experience of all these diseases was actually like before vaccinations were available - that is, mothers of my cohort.

When I was pregnant the first time I was going down the anti-vax road a little bit and had a conversation with a coworker from India, where children die, go blind, and go deaf due to lack of access to vaccines, and he really opened my eyes.

There are definitely risks to vaccination, and non-100% effectively is one of them, but I think we just have such a short collective memory on the benefits that now people see the risks as unacceptable.

To the comments about heavy metals: where I am ONLY the flu vaccine contains a preservative that has mercury. For the other shots there are alternatives.

What I don't like about this TV show from the description is that it is not accurate. Fiction doesn't have to be "true" but there is no reason for it to be this sloppy on what the actual evidence is around Thimerosol AND the fact that it is not much used in the first world any more. If the screenwriters couldn't come up with a courtroom drama that rested on ACTUAL fact then they were just lazy.

Posted by: Shandra | January 30, 2008 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Given the absolutely ridiculous things that people believe that they picked up from a forwarded email, I don't think it's much of a stretch to think that people will make medical decisions based on what they've seen on t.v.! The A.A.P. is right to be concerned. Logic is rarely the primary driver of decisions parents make regarding their children. As the "American Voice" in The Onion said, "I am unmoved by these findings. The amount of scientific evidence I've made up in my mind is too significant to refute."

Posted by: Sarah | January 30, 2008 8:48 AM | Report abuse

It's concerning because I read an article in a local paper just this weekend about parents who blamed their three-year-old's autism on mercury in vaccines, and mercury has not been in vaccines in the US since 1999, so a 3-year-old couldn't have been exposed that way. (Not that anyone's proved a link, anyhow.) It's just stupid to have a show that not only bases a case on a link that's been effectively disproven, but is a situation that doesn't even exist anymore. It's like having a show where people sue Sherwin-Williams for selling them lead-based paint. Unless the episode is set in the 1970's, it would just be dumb.

Posted by: Athena | January 30, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

But see, here's my question before I can really judge whether or not ABC did the right thing here: does the show make it look like the lady suing is correct, or that she's completely off her rocker for thinking that this stuff caused her child's autism? Some of these shows, while they do show some quirky law suits, portray them as just that -- people who are off their nut and litigious to boot.

Possibly most importantly on my list of questions is does the judge find in her favor?

If it is treated as a serious case and she wins it, then I could see the cause for concern, as this would lend credibility to her claim (fictional or otherwise). If she loses, it's more a comment of, "Yes, some people think this way. They're not necessarily right, but they're out there."

Posted by: Writers' Intent? | January 30, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Most people just aren't that smart, and TV is going to influence those people. It's also going to add vigor to conspiracy theorists and others on the fringe. Most importantly, it's going to give attention to shows to increase their viewership.

BTW, the mercury-autism people have now become the aluminum-autism people. Autism tends to become obvious around the time vaccines are administered, so people correlate.

Those who don't vaccinate are protected by herd immunity. I think if you choose not to vaccinate you should have to pay as if you had been vaccinated. That way you can pay to vaccinate kids who can't afford it, and contribute to the herd immunity that protects you.

Posted by: atb | January 30, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Small correction to Beta: Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in 1999, not "the 1980s". Now, all vaccines on the pediatric schedule are thimerosal-free; the flu shot is available in both thimerosal-containing (trace amount) and thimerosal-free.

BUT, the science is there. There is NO link between Thimerosal and autism. SHows like this only perpetuate well-meaning parents' mis-guided fears. When parents fail to vaccinate, it puts ALL of public health in jeopardy.

Autism is a devastating disease. And that is why the government is dedicating more research money to finding ways to help these children and their families find effective treatments - more money than practically any other single specific disease.

Posted by: Elizabeth | January 30, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Study after study after study has proven that THERE IS NO LINK BETWEEN VACCINES AND AUTISM. It shouldn't matter what a TV show discusses -- as parents, we should educate ourselves on these things.

As the adopted aunt of a severly autistic child, my heart goes out to any family dealing with this affliction, but the facts speak for themselves.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 30, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

While the question the writer posed is an interesting one, I do agree with anon that people on this blog and who read WP are smarter then your average American.

However, what I think is a larger question this situation brings up is the ethics of Hollywood. ABC with the airing of "Eli Stone" is sending a message that they feel profit and not setting aside a pilot episode (which cost on average 3-5mm+ to make) is more important then perceptions of Americans. After all the major networks are about making money and not providing a public service, they would argue PBS is for that.

What I don't get is why the show's producer did not call the AAP and ask about this issue prior to beginning production. Also a good consultant for a show would have brought the issue up is script development. Then ABC would not be looking at a huge loss.

But then again the very presence of this controversy surrounding 'Eli Stone' on blogs, newspapers, and news programs across America is just free advertising for the show.

Posted by: Ashley | January 30, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

People believe what they see on television or in the movies. A 5-second disclaimer will not prevent the misinformation in a 45-minute television show.

If there was a TV drama stating someone suing a restaurant because AIDS was transmitted from the building's toilets, just think how that would impact AIDS education and conversations.

Posted by: Chris | January 30, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

The problem in the end is that people are impressionable, emotional, and irrational. Television feeds on this.

The cost, to those of us who believe that vaccines are the best option available to prevent disease, is that the companies who make them see this business as increasingly high risk, and low reward. I would not be surprised to see fewer options in the future, as plants shut down.

Posted by: Matt M | January 30, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Two false statements that "Thirmirosol has not been in childhood vaccinations since the 1980s." and "It was removed in 1999" No, it was never "removed" it was allowed to phase out. In "compromise" agreement with CDC, AMA, pharmaceutical reps, no recalls were required. Mercury does not belong in infant vaccines.
Stockpiles were allowed to be used, coincidently my son (now autistic) had it in his shots in 2000.
The truth: There is a class action lawsuit by parents of children whose shots contained thirmerosal who regressed into autism after shots. They showed high levels of mercury in their blood/hair samples and blame its presence in vaccines. They developed symptoms of mercury poisoining (idential to symptoms of autism, but the damage to their brains was longlasting) University of Calgary has a short film showing the damage mercury ("trace amts") does to the brain cells of a snail. I suggest you watch it before you consent to a vaccine with it in it...or eat a big helping of Tuna or Swordfish. In a multidose vacinne shot (10 doses) the mercury sinks to bottom. If the vial was not shaken properly, or nurse got distracted before administering shot,&/ or you were the tenth recipient, your baby got more mercury in ONE injection than is recommended in 6 months of exposure through water, fish, etc. Were the children who became autistic the 10th recipient? Scraping the bottom of the vial to get every last "trace amt" of mercury? How carefully was the thirmerosal measured into the solution to "preserve" the virus protection agents?
Also "the science is there" to exonerate mercury is false, There were serious flaws in methodology/populations of those studies that supposedly "prove" no link. Autism no doubt has many INTERRELATED causes, but please understand this: The amish have no vaccines and no autism.

Look at each vaccine carefully. Do not just blindly follow the "herd"...look at your child's immune system first. If he has an egg allergy, one shot could cripple him for life. Some vaccines are more valuable and necessary than others. Stay away from the unnecessary ones (Chicken pox, Hepatitis B--unless you are an IV drug user). It is far better for the developing immune system to throw these off naturally...and be assulted ONE at a time, not in 3 dose combination.

Posted by: the truth | January 30, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

While I certainly agree that parents should be able to recognize fact from fiction, and many do I'm sure, the fact of the matter is that many Americans blur the line between fact and fiction when watching medical (and legal) dramas -- especially ones that appear to cast stories based on current news headlines or popular debates like the between Autism and vaccination. I don't think folks consciously blur that line, but it's really indisputable that they do.

The fact that ABC has issued a statement that they believe it would unfortunate to take the pilot as fact and choose not to vaccinate is really a load. It's a "medical" drama! If that had any truth to it, they would issue a disclaimer after the show to that effect. Unfortunately, the debate about the irresponsibility of ABC will likely boost this pilot episode to enormous ratings which it arguable does not deserve.

Posted by: Jennifer T | January 30, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

fr the truth:

>...Stay away from the unnecessary ones (Chicken pox, Hepatitis B--unless you are an IV drug user). It is far better for the developing immune system to throw these off naturally...and be assulted ONE at a time, not in 3 dose combination.

No, it is NOT "far better" to have chicken pox, as it lies dormant in your system for years and then often erupts as shingles, an extremely PAINFUL disorder. I had shingles, and my right eye swelled SHUT for 1 1/2 days. Don't ever want to go through that again.

Posted by: Alex | January 30, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Just a FYI Matt -- the pharmaceutical companies making the vaccines are protected by our Federal Government that set up a fund and an administrative legal process that forces plaintiffs to sue them first. I don't remember the name of the find but I'm sure you could Google it. The reason for this is based exactly on your sentiment -- that it's too risky and not cost effective for them to be involved in manufacturing vaccines in view of liability.

My personal view on it is that there's not a chance our Government would be willing to put its money where it's mouth is unless it thought there was slim to zero risk involved. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Jennifer T | January 30, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I know many many many people who absorb what they see on TV as factual when they don't know much about the topic.

I have read information reported as FACT in the comments of this blog which is totally false. Some of you posting here believe things which are wrong.

TV shows which show this kind of thing without a disclaimer should be fined by the FCC.

Posted by: DCer | January 30, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Oh, please. This storyline is relevant as any other storyline used in entertainment ripped from the headlines. I could understand the objection if a news program (a la "Nightline") were to run this idea as an absolute truth, but this is a wildly fictitious show. The main character has a brain aneurysm that causes hallucinations, for crying out loud!

Posted by: 22304 | January 30, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Mercury does not belong in infant vaccines.

Why not?

Mercury is in our houses, our water, our soil, our fish. It's not like your infants aren't exposed to mercury and haven't been exposed to it for a hundred years or more.

If you eat tuna, you eat mercury, if you're fine it's because you didn't eat much of it.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Parents with defective children tend to blame everybody and everything but themselves. I work for a law firm that represents several major pharmaceutical companies in suits brought on by parents because their kid came down with some disease. In many cases, there is a family history of that disease -- it's in the kid's DNA, the vaccinations had absolutely nothing to do with it. Further -- if one kids gets sick after vaccination and 45,000 kids got the same vaccine, isn't it reasonable that MORE THAN ONE would come down with the same illness? DUH!!!!

Amazing how people will believe a ficticious story on TV but are skeptical about things that really happen.

Stop the blame game. You 'expert parents' are not capable of producing normal, healthy children and you don't know how to take care of them once you get them. Why not just hang it up and stop populating the world with defectives.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Alex, I am sorry you had shingles...I've seen several cases upclose (my mother for one) and it is painful.
But haven't you heard of the new "epedimic" of shingles among COLLEGE AGE STUDENTS who ALSO received the chickenpox vaccine when it WORE OFF!
My daughter got the chickenpox vaccine and 5 years later at age 7 came down with....chickenpox!
Your best bet for a healthy immune system is to not let yourself get run down. That is when shingles strikes (it is also called Herpes Zoster and is in family of Herpes virus that also "lies dormant" once you've contracted it.
The vaccine is no pancea for protection, in fact it coming out that having had chickenpox itself is more protective than having had the vaccine.
So what is big pharm recommending to college kids who had the vaccine in childhood, but are now at greater risk for Shingles (as they drink, stay up late/pull all-nighters, eat junk food, have frequent sex w/ multitude of partners--just a few of combined risk factors)?
Booster shots!
But my point is, it is your choice how you want to protect yourself, unlike an infant/child who has no choice, but relies on her parents to do the research based on their own risk factors, history of vaccine reaction (not just blindly follow the herd).

Posted by: the truth | January 30, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Say what you will about vaccines, but there is definitely a link between the aforementioned heavy metals and children's abberant behavior.

Take my brother, for example. Once he started listeing to Van Halen and Judas Priest, things were never the same.

Posted by: Days of Broken Arrows | January 30, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Mercury does not belong in infant vaccines.

Why not?

Just like with lead, there is no "safe" level of mercury for the developing you do your best to absolutely limit any and all exposure. Exactly BECAUSE, as you say, it exists in water, air, leeches from dental fillings into breast milk, is in fish (esp. the big fish)... heavy metal ill-effects are cumulative. All exposures accumulate and assualt the system...inject a dose of it straight into the bloodstream (not protected/systhesized by the gut firwst as mercury in water/food is) into a 6 pound infant on day 1 of his life and you're asking for trouble...that is why parents say, "environment loads the gun, vaccines pull the trigger" in the most vunerable...that's why you see higher rates of autism/developmental problems in zipcodes near polluted water sources, coal burning power plants, and in mothers who ate a lot of fish while pregnant.

BTW, failing to prove a causal link between vaccines and autism is not the same thing as DISproving a link. What is at issue is not that mercury is extremely toxic , it is the LEVELS of mercury and whether certain vunerable populations are at greater risk. Those with developing brains and those with deteriourating brains (old folks) are at greatest risk for autism/altzheimer-like symptoms. While the altzheimer's patient's abilty to speak/socialize has already been developed, the infant's has those symptoms come on more slowly.

There is plenty of evidence/research that proves these facts...and remember the CDC DID recommend/acknowledge that mercury NOT be contained in infant vaccines, thus the phase out.

Posted by: the truth | January 30, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry but thimerisol might be in a vaccine. You have to read the label. We were concerned about thimerisol when our son was vaccinated as a baby 3 years ago. The Dr. assured us it was not in the vaccine. We asked to read the label and sure enough it was there. Why were we avoiding thimerisol? I developed cardiac arrythmia after having thimerisol in a flu vaccine. I have to wear a medical bracelet now. You bet I worry.

Posted by: Priscilla | January 30, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Hi "the truth,"
The Amish actually do have autism.
It is a really interesting article. The genetics are shocking straightforward, though that doesn't mean that the same will hold true in the more genetically heterogeneous population that the rest of us live (and reproduce) in.

Posted by: Cite your sources | January 30, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

To the misleadingly named "the truth":

Why don't you look at what happened in the UK after scaremongers like you whipped up anxiety about vaccines without the slightest evidence: Lots more children went unvaccinated, and lots more children got measles. Your nonsense is harming children.

You don't care about "the truth." You deal in rumor and hysteria. It's not true that the symptoms of mercury poisoning are identical to those of autism: mercury poisoning causes motor problems such as tremor and incoordination, while autism does not.

It's not "truth" to complain about "flaws" in studies and then uncritically repeat the unproven ancedote about the Amish and autism. There has been no study of the Amish. One man essentially made trivial observations of a subset of Amish. Guess what: they're private people.

The reference to high levels of mercury in hair is perhaps the weirdest distortion. The original myth that anti-vaccinationists peddled was that autistic children had LOW levels of mercury in their hair. Supposedly it was causing autism because they weren't excreting it into their hair. The fact that this myth has turned 180 degrees shows its relationship to the truth.

Posted by: Tom T. | January 30, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I think a disclaimer that the show is fictional is perfectly fine, but it needs to be accurate. The first disclaimer is flat out wrong. Mercury is used as a preservative in most flu vaccines, which are now recommended by the CDC for children under 5. The second disclaimer is incomplete and therefore misleading. If there us a statement that there is no proven scientific link between vaccines and autism, then the statement should also say that there is also no proof as to an absense of a link. There are lots of studies going both ways and no definitive answer yet to this important issue.

Posted by: Darren | January 30, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate Truth's comments. I have looked at the studies that have collected and analyzed research on a link between mercury in vaccines and autism, and I think the original research is deficient. The link is probably not a simple mercury = autism, but rather mercury + some DNA = triggering of autism.

In other words, having a family history might or might not indicate that a particular individual has a genetic risk of developing autism, and it is possible that some types of incipient autism may require an environmental trigger - mercury, for example - to manifest symptoms.

The studies I have read about do not seem to adequately take into account this sophisticated set of variables. And how could they? Until we can identify people who have the environmental trigger, we can't tell for sure whether mercury triggers autism. Especially if there are several paths to autism, some of which involve environmental factors and some of which are purely genetic.

Remember also that scientists again and again claim to be "certain" in a hubristic way, and seem never to remember past mistakes:

The odds of a nuclear plant meltdown are a billion-to-one.

Stomach ulcers are caused by stress and spicy food: the idea that a bacterium is involved is ridiculous (helicobacter pylori, as Warren and Marshall correctly discovered -- and were immediately pilloried in the medical science community.

Even when scientists claim to rescue us from our ignorance, it is sometimes actually from their own pride and incompetence.

Case in point: the 50+% reduction of SIDS by having infants sleep on their backs. After Finnish studies showed rather conclusively that face-down sleeping greatly contributed to SIDS, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually waited several years to get results of American studies before recommending the change in sleeping position.

The delay cost thousands of lives. And, when the AAP announced their new recommendation, they cast it as a change from "traditional parenting practice," which was untrue. Traditional parenting practice had been to put infants face up for naps and sleeping in their cribs, cradles, and baby buggies. It was the AAP, soon after its founding in the 1930s, that advised mothers to lay their infants on their stomachs to help them get to sleep more quickly.

We should not blindly believe what we see in a fictional setting, but it is equally important we not return to the blind obedience to medical and scientific authorities that our grandparents were brainwashed into. Instead, let's be informed, skeptical of claims of "certainty", and logical in weighing risks against one another.

Posted by: Truth is true | January 30, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

To The "Truth":

There is plenty of evidence/research that proves these facts...and remember the CDC DID recommend/acknowledge that mercury NOT be contained in infant vaccines, thus the phase out.

Cite your sources, please.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 30, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I remember a girl in middle school saying that her mom told her that kissing a boy could get her pregnant. The mom firmly believed that kissing could get someone pregnant, not lead to sex and all that.

The mom also said that the only time you can get pregnant is during her period. The daughter was irresponsible and had three kids by the time she graduated high school and couldn't understand why mama was wrong.

When it comes to TV shows, people don't separate fact from fiction. Look at all the nuts out there that believe EVERYTHING they see on TV, even the cartoons. Jeff Foxworthy had a bit about a cousin who thought Mickey Mouse was a real mouse.

There are enough not-so-smart people out there who believe what they see on TV instead of finding out for themselves. That's why Americans are labeled as lazy. We'll accept the first thing that pops into our heads even if it's the wrong thing.

Posted by: Dumb Americans | January 30, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

to Days of Broken Arrows--you made me laugh out loud. Thanks!

to "the truth" -- my next door neighbor died of chickenpox when I was a kid. It went into his brain. So, it's not exactly a non-lethal disease.

And most of us adults got vaccinated with mercury preservative laden vaccines--why didn't we see tons of autistic kids when we were growing up?

And sorry about my year mix-up re Thimersol. Thanks to those for the data correction.

Posted by: beta | January 30, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

If our collective "beliefs" and the public schools teach us darwinism and evolution - why do you then get so up in arms when it works out that way in real life? If you are stupid enough to believe a tv show is the truth - and your children die because they are not vaccinated - isn't this for the good of the species?

Posted by: SnottyNozeBratt1 | January 30, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Beta, Just an observation about not seeing autistic kids before -- I hypothesize 2 things: (a) they were locked up in some kind of institution; and/or (b) they were seen as freaks or dorks unable to socialize. In other words, they were there we just didn't know what it was called or called it something else

Posted by: Jennifer T | January 30, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

beta: if you look at yesterday's discussion, you will know they have widened the definition of autism spectrum disorder. So a lot of the kids in the past who had mild forms of the disorder were called quirky, weird, geek, etc... And the more serious forms were all labeled as retarded. They have come a long way with redefining and understanding different types of learning and developmental disorders. And I believe they will continue to do so in the future. So kids today who have a blanket label of autism might be called XYZ and some might have QRS etc...

Posted by: foamgnome | January 30, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

To "Truth is true":

By your logic, we might as well hypothesize that space aliens cause autism. After all, we can't point to any studies disproving that, can we? As long as you're not bothered by any need to come forward with a theory or evidence that actually supports or even explains your hypothesis, you can imagine any cause you please.

Posted by: Tom T. | January 30, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

My wife and I avoid this in discussions with other parents. Clearly it is a very controversial and painful topic. But the twins have had all their vaccinations and thankfully are fine at 8.

We believe 2 or 3 cc's of prevention is worth a lifetime of pain. Heck we even have the girls wear tin foil hats during full moons to protect them from, well you know. And they wear them when we us our cell phones at home. So we will not criticize other parents for their beliefs based on rumor and anecdotal information. In fact if there is a thinning of the herd (childhood illnesses that are preventable) I guess that means more for the twins later in life. Isn't that what this is about me mine ours? Who cares about the public well being, scientific evidence, etc. Survival of the richest ooops fittest.

Posted by: NYC | January 30, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

To Priscilla: Thimerosal reduces cardiac arrhythmia; it doesn't cause it.

It may be that your doctor did a poor job of explaining what was happening.

Posted by: Tom T. | January 30, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Tom T.:

I'm not using fallacious reasoning when I say that the studies to date do not effectively investigate the possibility of a gene-environment connection. Either they do, after all, or they don't. You can look them up and decide for yourself.

Neither is it illogical for me to speculate that mercury is an environmental trigger, if the studies as mentioned fail to rule out (some-but-not-all-autism) gene-environment connections due to their design.

Thimerosal is an especially toxic chemical (EC hazard symbol T+) and studies have indicated that when it is injected it rapidly degrades to ethylmercury, which hangs around in the body for weeks and is likewise quite problematic. Children began receiving larger amounts of thimerosal as they received more and larger vaccinations in the 80s and 90s, paralleling the increase in autism.

While not proof, these issues generate reasonable questions, which the scientific community has taken seriously enough to remove thimerosal from many vaccines and to study the link. Putting organomercury into the bloodstreams of infants and small children seems like as promising an environmental trigger as one could ask for.

"Space aliens," does not.

Actually, Tom, you are doing the same thing as some in the pediatric community, something I think is dangerous for science. You are ridiculing those who disagree in an ad hominem attack: "you are so stupid and illogical that you might think just anything causes autism." This fallacious tactic was used against the team that discovered the cause of pyloric ulcers, it was the tactic used against the scientist who discovered prions (mad cow disease) and the tactic used ages ago to delegitimize the physician who first posited germ theory as the cause of high neonatality in early 20th century hospitals. (He noted that doctors were going from autopsies to birth without even washing their hands. He was drummed out of the profession.)

Posted by: Truth is True | January 30, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

To Tom

No - it caused it right when I had the shot. I ended up in the ER and am not allowed to have thimerosal again.

Posted by: Priscilla | January 30, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I also wanted to chime in about the importance of chicken pox vaccinations. While it only causes a mild fever, minor rash, etc. in small children, chicken pox can be quite serious if caught as an adult (as others have already posted). Back before a vaccine was available, families used to host "chicken pox parties" to make sure their children caught the disease at an age when they would get the mild form only (which is how I got chicken pox when I was 3). Now that "chicken pox parties" are no longer in vogue, there are very good reasons for getting the chicken pox vaccination.

Posted by: TEL | January 30, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I should also mention that catching the disease as a child might make the symptoms milder, but won't change the possibility of later complications (like shingles). So vaccination is substantially better than "chicken pox parties". Chicken pox can also cause substantial damage to a fetus, if a pregnant woman chooses to not get vaccinated and catches the disease.

Posted by: TEL | January 30, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"Chicken pox can also cause substantial damage to a fetus, if a pregnant woman chooses to not get vaccinated and catches the disease."

Another bad effect of people not getting their children vaccinated is the increased risk for pregnant women to catch something such as chicken pox or rubella. I had chicken pox when I was younger (no vaccine then), but if I hadn't been, I would have been exposed to it while pregnant because someone chose to not get their child vaccinated and they caught the disease. Not vaccinating your child not only affects the child, but other people. I understand that some children need herd immunity and I respect that, but some parents are just putting their children and our children at risk. I have no idea what causes autism and I know it is scary, but do people really think that the government would knowingly put its young population at risk through vaccinations? I mean, not only would they have to support the children, but who will support the old if we have an epidemic of sick or non-functional children.

I also know that my doctor has already seen cases of measles this year in his practice. I worry more about taking my kids to the doctor's office around kids who communicable diseases than I do about autism.

Posted by: Irishgirl | January 30, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Correction to my post above: I meant to write "number of neonatal fatalities" rather than "neonatality" in reference to hospital hand washing.

Posted by: Truth is True | January 30, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

There are alternatives to either not vaxing or vaxing on schedule. Richard Sears has a new book out which discusses the individual components of all the current childhood vaccines, which has excellent advice for on which ones have unusually high levels of aluminum (for example), and should probably not be given in conjunction with other shots on the same visits. It also lists the vaccines which still contain trace amounts of mercury (they do still exist, contrary to what has been posted here).

We spaced out our DD's vaccines, which our pediatrician said is actually a better idea (the current schedule is based more on convenience, since most parents don't want to make extra appointments for shots). The problem with the current schedule, in which as many as 4 vaccines may be given on a single day, is that if a child has a reaction there is no way to no which shot caused the problem. You are supposed to stop the series if a severe reaction occurs, but there is no way to know which series of shots is the culprit.

Posted by: reston, va | January 30, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

In response to an earlier poster: according to the WaPo story, the parent does prevail and win the suit. I'm pretty horrified by this story line. Disclaimer or not, the story will carry a lot of emotional weight and could discourage vaccinations. We've all had friends who had one story that they relied on more than evidence, like the uncle who smoked two packs a day and lived to 80 is evidence that smoking isn't bad for you. This storyline is fictitious but it is purposefully structured for drama and emotional impact and people will remember the story long after they've forgotten the less exciting disclaimer. And if the disclaimer is only at the start of the episode, people who tune in a little bit late won't see it.
My understanding is that thimerosal was used in vaccines in a time where several doses would be drawn from a bottle; it's an effective preservative. Most vaccines now are provided to the physician as single-dose and thus are unlikely to benefit from thimerosal. There is a plethora of evidence that suggests no link between autism and thimerosal.

Posted by: Angela | January 30, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I will stay out of the discussion about the link between vaccines and autism, but I do think it is irresponsible to say that the Hep B vaccine is not really necessary. Hep B is very highly infectious and much easier to contract then HIV or hep C. Plus there is still no cure.
Our livers are prime real estate in our bodies and we should do all we can to protect them.

Posted by: Karen | January 30, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"but do people really think that the government would knowingly put its young population at risk through vaccinations?"

No, that would be like the City of Niagara Falls using an undeveloped area as a landfill for chemical waste disposal, then selling it to Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation and, after Hooker put 22,000 tons of toxic waste into it, buying it back to put a school on it, then putting in sewers for an adjacent development which breached the landfill and contaminated the entire neighborhood.

No, of course no government would do something like that. Government and government bureaucracies "Love" us too much!

Posted by: Frank | January 30, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Fetal alcohol syndrome may also account for development problems. How many of you drank alcohol during your preganancy? If so, raise your hands. Nothing to do with vaccines or genes -- it's all the fault of the mother.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Fetal alcohol syndrome and Autism. Now there's a good analogy.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Well, Frank that is a scary story, but I guess I just don't have that big of a distrust of the government.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Um, It's not a "scary story."

It's what happened. It's called Love Canal.

You could look it up....

Posted by: Frank | January 30, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

But Frank, what's the connection between the City of Niagara falls and a vaccine corporation?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Symptoms of FAS: distinct facial features; slow physical growth before and after birth; vision and hearing problems; mental retardation and delayed development; abnormal behaviour such as short attention span, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, extreme nervousness and anxiety; agitation and crying; failure to thrive; poor socialization skills such as difficulty building and maintaining friendships and relating to groups; lack of imagination and curiosity; inability to understand concepts such as time and money; poor problem-solving skills; social withdrawal, stubborness.

Autisim symptoms: Fails to response to his or her name; poor eye contact; prefers playing alone; retreats into own world; delayed development with language; speaks in abnormal tone or rhythm; can't start a conversation or keep one going; difficulty expressing needs and wants; difficulty understanding another person's feelings; becomes disturbed at slightest change in routine or rituals; unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch; lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests or achievements with others; preoccupation with narrow or restricted topics; need for sameness and routines.

I'd say there are a lot of similarities there, just using different terms. A study has also proven that children of people who read the Washington Post are more likely to be autistic.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

But nameless poster, what's the connection between your question:

"But Frank, what's the connection between the City of Niagara falls and a vaccine corporation?"

and the comment:

"but do people really think that the government would knowingly put its young population at risk through vaccinations?"

that I was responding to?

My response to the questioner's unquestioning attitude toward government was to describe - sarcastically - a government-led horror story.

This answer will perfect sense after you learn your ABCs and sweat your way through that first Dick and Jane reader.

As George Bush would say on your behalf,

"No nameless posters left behind!"

Posted by: Frank | January 30, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Let's see. Some of you actually think that, despite knowing something's fictional, the information contained in a program couldn't influence people's thinking about a subject. Hmm, try reading up on your basic psych experiments.

For example, simply repeating a nonsense word to someone over and over will make the person prefer the word over other novel nonsense words. Absurd, eh? Yet true.

The AAP is absolutely right that this show could have negative effects on people, particularly those who are not protected by their own wealth of knowledge about the world. The belief that mercury causes autism (and that vaccines continue to contain mercury, which THEY DO NOT) is in danger of becoming one of those accepted, yet entirely untrue, myths that abound in society.

Posted by: rlalumiere | January 30, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

My husband always thinks that the event that occurred closest to his latest ailment is the "cause" despite the fact that he's lived with an epidemiologist for 12 years. It hasn't rubbed off. I think most people are guilty of this.

The most infuriating thing is that once these stories and beliefs get out into the public they become myths, no matter that the scientific community, usually funded by NIH, which in turn is funded by taxpayers, has been forced to spend billions of dollars on studies that are unnecessary and do not show any associations.

Examples of debunked myths: vitamin C cures/treats colds; sugar causes hyperactivity or a "sugar high" (hyperactive kids actually need more sugar); immunizations and autism; and Agent Orange and multiple ailments. Very good studies have not upheld these associations, but people retain their beliefs, while things that are affect the most people (including autistics) are obesity and hearth disease are ignored.

Posted by: RBH | January 30, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

This answer will perfect sense after you learn your ABCs and sweat your way through that first Dick and Jane reader.

Unfortunately I learned my ABCs and I've read the Dick and Jane readers, but so far that answer has failed to perfect sense.

I'll put the question another way, I know about Love Canal and in general it's thought that the 50 years between when the City of Niagara falls owned the land, rented it and sold it to Hooker and then bought it back contributed to the lack of understanding of what was in the earth there. In this case:
1. We aren't dealing with a few local officials with little documentation
2. We are dealing with active research in a current time frame of the last few years
3. You may have responded to a troll

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Don't listen to me, listen to RFK, Jr. (Rolling Stone article, 2005 well-sourced, well documented, google it for entire investigative article.)

The disease was unknown until 1943, when it was identified and diagnosed among eleven children born in the months after thimerosal was first added to baby vaccines in 1931.

Some skeptics dispute that the rise in autism is caused by thimerosal-tainted vaccinations. They argue that the increase is a result of better diagnosis -- a theory that seems questionable at best, given that most of the new cases of autism are clustered within a single generation of children. "If the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis," scoffs Dr. Boyd Haley, one of the world's authorities on mercury toxicity, "then where are all the twenty-year-old autistics?" Other researchers point out that Americans are exposed to a greater cumulative "load" of mercury than ever before, from contaminated fish to dental fillings, and suggest that thimerosal in vaccines may be only part of a much larger problem. It's a concern that certainly deserves far more attention than it has received -- but it overlooks the fact that the mercury concentrations in vaccines dwarf other sources of exposure to our children.

What is most striking is the lengths to which many of the leading detectives have gone to ignore -- and cover up -- the evidence against thimerosal. From the very beginning, the scientific case against the mercury additive has been overwhelming. The preservative, which is used to stem fungi and bacterial growth in vaccines, contains ethylmercury, a potent neurotoxin. Truckloads of studies have shown that mercury tends to accumulate in the brains of primates and other animals after they are injected with vaccines -- and that the developing brains of infants are particularly susceptible. In 1977, a Russian study found that adults exposed to much lower concentrations of ethylmercury than those given to American children still suffered brain damage years later. Russia banned thimerosal from children's vaccines twenty years ago, and Denmark, Austria, Japan, Great Britain and all the Scandinavian countries have since followed suit.

"You couldn't even construct a study that shows thimerosal is safe," says Haley, who heads the chemistry department at the University of Kentucky. "It's just too darn toxic. If you inject thimerosal into an animal, its brain will sicken. If you apply it to living tissue, the cells die. If you put it in a petri dish, the culture dies. Knowing these things, it would be shocking if one could inject it into an infant without causing damage."

Internal documents reveal that Eli Lilly, which first developed thimerosal, knew from the start that its product could cause damage -- and even death -- in both animals and humans. In 1930, the company tested thimerosal by administering it to twenty-two patients with terminal meningitis, all of whom died within weeks of being injected -- a fact Lilly didn't bother to report in its study declaring thimerosal safe. In 1935, researchers at another vaccine manufacturer, Pittman-Moore, warned Lilly that its claims about thimerosal's safety "did not check with ours." Half the dogs Pittman injected with thimerosal-based vaccines became sick, leading researchers there to declare the preservative "unsatisfactory as a serum intended for use on dogs."

In the decades that followed, the evidence against thimerosal continued to mount. During the Second World War, when the Department of Defense used the preservative in vaccines on soldiers, it required Lilly to label it "poison." In 1967, a study in Applied Microbiology found that thimerosal killed mice when added to injected vaccines. Four years later, Lilly's own studies discerned that thimerosal was "toxic to tissue cells" in concentrations as low as one part per million -- 100 times weaker than the concentration in a typical vaccine. Even so, the company continued to promote thimerosal as "nontoxic" and also incorporated it into topical disinfectants. In 1977, ten babies at a Toronto hospital died when an antiseptic preserved with thimerosal was dabbed onto their umbilical cords.

In 1982, the FDA proposed a ban on over-the-counter products that contained thimerosal, and in 1991 the agency considered banning it from animal vaccines. But tragically, that same year, the CDC recommended that infants be injected with a series of mercury-laced vaccines. Newborns would be vaccinated for hepatitis B within twenty-four hours of birth, and two-month-old infants would be immunized for haemophilus influenzae B and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.

The drug industry knew the additional vaccines posed a danger. The same year that the CDC approved the new vaccines, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, one of the fathers of Merck's vaccine programs, warned the company that six-month-olds who were administered the shots would suffer dangerous exposure to mercury. He recommended that thimerosal be discontinued, "especially when used on infants and children," noting that the industry knew of nontoxic alternatives. "The best way to go," he added, "is to switch to dispensing the actual vaccines without adding preservatives."

For Merck and other drug companies, however, the obstacle was money. Thimerosal enables the pharmaceutical industry to package vaccines in vials that contain multiple doses, which require additional protection because they are more easily contaminated by multiple needle entries. The larger vials cost half as much to produce as smaller, single-dose vials, making it cheaper for international agencies to distribute them to impoverished regions at risk of epidemics. Faced with this "cost consideration," Merck ignored Hilleman's warnings, and government officials continued to push more and more thimerosal-based vaccines for children. Before 1989, American preschoolers received eleven vaccinations -- for polio, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and measles-mumps-rubella. A decade later, thanks to federal recommendations, children were receiving a total of twenty-two immunizations by the time they reached first grade.

As the number of vaccines increased, the rate of autism among children exploded. During the 1990s, 40 million children were injected with thimerosal-based vaccines, receiving unprecedented levels of mercury during a period critical for brain development. Despite the well-documented dangers of thimerosal, it appears that no one bothered to add up the cumulative dose of mercury that children would receive from the mandated vaccines. "What took the FDA so long to do the calculations?" Peter Patriarca, director of viral products for the agency, asked in an e-mail to the CDC in 1999. "Why didn't CDC and the advisory bodies do these calculations when they rapidly expanded the childhood immunization schedule?"

But by that time, the damage was done. At two months, when the infant brain is still at a critical stage of development, infants routinely received three inoculations that contained a total of 62.5 micrograms of ethylmercury -- a level 99 times greater than the EPA's limit for daily exposure to methylmercury, a related neurotoxin. Although the vaccine industry insists that ethylmercury poses little danger because it breaks down rapidly and is removed by the body, several studies -- including one published in April by the National Institutes of Health -- suggest that ethylmercury is actually more toxic to developing brains and stays in the brain longer than methylmercury.

Officials responsible for childhood immunizations insist that the additional vaccines were necessary to protect infants from disease and that thimerosal is still essential in developing nations, which, they often claim, cannot afford the single-dose vials that don't require a preservative. Dr. Paul Offit, one of CDC's top vaccine advisers, told me, "I think if we really have an influenza pandemic -- and certainly we will in the next twenty years, because we always do -- there's no way on God's earth that we immunize 280 million people with single-dose vials. There has to be multidose vials."

But while public-health officials may have been well-intentioned, many of those on the CDC advisory committee who backed the additional vaccines had close ties to the industry. Dr. Sam Katz, the committee's chair, was a paid consultant for most of the major vaccine makers and was part of a team that developed the measles vaccine and brought it to licensure in 1963. Dr. Neal Halsey, another committee member, worked as a researcher for the vaccine companies and received honoraria from Abbott Labs for his research on the hepatitis B vaccine.

Posted by: The truth | January 30, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

A large survey of all children born in Denmark between January 1991 to December 1998 shows no difference in the incidence of autism between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

During 2 986 654 person-years, we identified 440 autism cases and 787 cases of other autistic-spectrum disorders. The risk of autism and other autistic-spectrum disorders did not differ significantly between children vaccinated with thimerosal-containing vaccine and children vaccinated with thimerosal-free vaccine (RR, 0.85 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 0.60-1.20] for autism; RR, 1.12 [95% CI, 0.88-1.43] for other autistic-spectrum disorders). Furthermore, we found no evidence of a dose-response association (increase in RR per 25 µg of ethylmercury, 0.98 [95% CI, 0.90-1.06] for autism and 1.03 [95% CI, 0.98-1.09] for other autistic-spectrum disorders).

I am shocked, SHOCKED that a politician in a peer-reviewed medical journal like Rolling Stone might suggest otherwise.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Dear Truth -

The Amish might not have familial autism, but they have bipolar disease, metabolic dwarfism and some other rare genetic diseases because of their inbreeding. The Amish are descended from 200 individuals. I guess there was no autism in the Amish progenitor or "founder" genome.

Autism is a spectrum of disorders, not just one disease and it has a number of genetic origins. As yet, the hereditary patterns have not been fully identified. However, there is no evidence for a purely environmental cause of autism. Most diseases have genetic components. This is also a spectrum - some diseases are purely hereditary, like muscular dystrophy, others are a result of gene-environment interaction, such as lung cancer.

I have personal experience with the disease - my brother has a moderately severe form of it. He had it way before there was a word for it. However, we can see autistic "traits" in our otherwise high functional family. We're not wild about physical contact, we don't like crowds, we have good memories, we extremely empirical and skeptical about things for which we can't see evidence.

I find it hard to believe that autism is environmental. If people with autistic children think hard about personalities of people in their families, they might realize that it's a familial disease.

Posted by: R | January 30, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

To: the truth - btw, I think handgun deaths have increased significantly since women got the vote!

Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999 Impact of Vaccines Universally Recommended for Children -- United States, 1990-1998
At the beginning of the 20th century, infectious diseases were widely prevalent in the United States and exacted an enormous toll on the population. For example, in 1900, 21,064 smallpox cases were reported, and 894 patients died (1). In 1920, 469,924 measles cases were reported, and 7575 patients died; 147,991 diphtheria cases were reported, and 13,170 patients died. In 1922, 107,473 pertussis cases were reported, and 5099 patients died (2,3).

In 1900, few effective treatment and preventive measures existed to prevent infectious diseases. Although the first vaccine against smallpox was developed in 1796, greater than 100 years later its use had not been widespread enough to fully control the disease (4). Four other vaccines -- against rabies, typhoid, cholera, and plague -- had been developed late in the 19th century but were not used widely by 1900.

Since 1900, vaccines have been developed or licensed against 21 other diseases (5) (Table_1). Ten of these vaccines have been recommended for use only in selected populations at high risk because of area of residence, age, medical condition, or risk behaviors. The other 11 have been recommended for use in all U.S. children (6).

During the 20th century, substantial achievements have been made in the control of many vaccine-preventable diseases. This report documents the decline in morbidity from nine vaccine-preventable diseases and their complications -- smallpox, along with the eight diseases for which vaccines had been recommended for universal use in children as of 1990 (Table_2). Four of these diseases are detailed: smallpox has been eradicated, poliomyelitis caused by wild-type viruses has been eliminated, and measles and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) invasive disease among children aged less than 5 years have been reduced to record low numbers of cases.

Information about disease and death during the 20th century was obtained from the MMWR annual summaries of notifiable diseases and reports by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. For smallpox, Hib, and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), published studies were used (2,3,7-14).

Current Delivery and Use of Vaccines

National efforts to promote vaccine use among all children began with the appropriation of federal funds for polio vaccination after introduction of the vaccine in 1955 (5). Since then, federal, state, and local governments and public and private health-care providers have collaborated to develop and maintain the vaccine-delivery system in the United States.

Overall, U.S. vaccination coverage is at record high levels. In 1997, coverage among children aged 19-35 months (median age: 27 months) exceeded 90% for three or more doses of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine (DTP), three or more doses of poliovirus vaccine, three or more doses of Hib vaccine, and one or more doses of measles-containing vaccine. Coverage with four doses of DTP was 81% and for three doses of hepatitis B vaccine was 84%. Coverage was substantially lower for the recently introduced varicella vaccine (26%) and for the combined series of four DTP/three polio/one measles-containing vaccine/three Hib (76%) (15). Coverage for rotavirus vaccine, licensed in December 1998, has not yet been measured among children aged 19-35 months. Coverage among children aged 5-6 years has exceeded 95% each school year since 1980 for DTP; polio; and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines (CDC, unpublished data, 1998).

Vaccine Impact

Dramatic declines in morbidity have been reported for the nine vaccine-preventable diseases for which vaccination was universally recommended for use in children before 1990 (excluding hepatitis B, rotavirus, and varicella) (Table_2). Morbidity associated with smallpox and polio caused by wild-type viruses has declined 100% and nearly 100% for each of the other seven diseases.

Smallpox. Smallpox is the only disease that has been eradicated. During 1900-1904, an average of 48,164 cases and 1528 deaths caused by both the severe (variola major) and milder (variola minor) forms of smallpox were reported each year in the United States (1). The pattern in the decline of smallpox was sporadic. Outbreaks of variola major occurred periodically in the first quarter of the 1900s and then ceased abruptly in 1929. Outbreaks of variola minor declined in the 1940s, and the last case in the United States was reported in 1949. The eradication of smallpox in 1977 enabled the discontinuation of prevention and treatment efforts, including routine vaccination. As a result, in 1985 the United States recouped its investment in worldwide eradication every 26 days (1).

Polio. Polio vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1955. During 1951-1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1879 deaths from polio were reported each year (9,10). Polio incidence declined sharply following the introduction of vaccine to less than 1000 cases in 1962 and remained below 100 cases after that year. In 1994, every dollar spent to administer oral poliovirus vaccine saved $3.40 in direct medical costs and $2.74 in indirect societal costs (14). The last documented indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus in the United States occurred in 1979. Since then, reported cases have been either vaccine-associated or imported. As of 1991, polio caused by wild-type viruses has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere (16). Enhanced use of the inactivated polio vaccine is expected to reduce the number of vaccine-associated cases, which averaged eight cases per year during 1980-1994 (17).

Measles. Measles vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1963. During 1958-1962, an average of 503,282 measles cases and 432 measles-associated deaths were reported each year (9-11). Measles incidence and deaths began to decline in 1965 and continued a 33-year downward trend. This trend was interrupted by epidemics in 1970-1972, 1976-1978, and 1989-1991. In 1998, measles reached a provisional record low number of 89 cases with no measles-associated deaths (13). All cases in 1998 were either documented to be associated with international importations (69 cases) or believed to be associated with international importations (CDC, unpublished data, 1998). In 1994, every dollar spent to purchase measles-containing vaccine saved $10.30 in direct medical costs and $3.20 in indirect societal costs (7).

Hib. The first Hib vaccines were polysaccharide products licensed in 1985 for use in children aged 18-24 months. Polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccines were licensed subsequently for use in children aged 18 months (in 1987) and later for use in children aged 2 months (in 1990). Before the first vaccine was licensed, an estimated 20,000 cases of Hib invasive disease occurred each year, and Hib was the leading cause of childhood bacterial meningitis and postnatal mental retardation (8,18). The incidence of disease declined slowly after licensure of the polysaccharide vaccine; the decline accelerated after the 1987 introduction of polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccines for toddlers and the 1990 recommendation to vaccinate infants. In 1998, 125 cases of Hib disease and Haemophilis influenzae invasive disease of unknown serotype among children aged less than 5 years were provisionally reported: 54 were Hib and 71 were of unknown serotype (CDC, unpublished data, 1998). In less than a decade, the use of the Hib conjugate vaccines nearly eliminated Hib invasive disease among children.

Posted by: go back to 1900 then | January 30, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I know Neal Halsey and he would never cave in to industry. All of us use industry money to do our research without having it constrain our integrity.

Posted by: phat | January 30, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

What business does the AAP have in trying to interfere with airing of a television show by ABC. It is bad enough that the taxpayers have for years unknowingly funded a consultant paid by the Department of Health and Human Services (i.e. umbrella to the CDC) to promote their views in movies and televisions shows.

Good for ABC for not backing down from airing this premier. I hope they will be fair and put links to both CDC and SafeMinds so the interested public can all of the research on the topic and not just the CDC funded epidemiology studies.

Posted by: SC | January 30, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

So where exactly are the studies that show a decline in autism since the gradual removal of thimerosal in 1999?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Dear 'the Truth'

Please remember that correlation is NOT causation. The comment that Amish don't have autism and they don't do vaccination is meaningless but inflammatory. The Amish also don't have space flight. What does that mean?

On the other hand, there is NO scientific correlation of autism with vaccinations, which has been looked at over and over again in various studies by various groups with various biases. Scientifically, it's done. No one can find a solid reason to keep looking at vaccines as a causative factor. Time would be better spent figuring out new ways to look at the disease and try to understand the mechanisms of autism rather than beating our collective heads against the vaccination theme. It's not helping anyone, least of all individuals and families who are suffering.

Not knowing the precise mechanism of autism means that only speculation is possible at this point. Speculations can be very helpful in leading to testable hypotheses. Scientific studies to understand the roots of autism are under way, and the more hypotheses that are tested, the better chance we have of actually learning something solid about autism, perhaps giving us a better chance to develop a treatment or prevention or cure.

As for the real question posed about ABC's responsibility to portray the facts of the autism situation, it's beyond me. I wish that people would inform themselves about these issues from factual sources but the sad truth is that most people get their facts from TV and don't know how to separate truth from fiction. These are the people who are ready to believe (Mulder?) anything that sounds sensational or outrageous, and TV and the media play right into it.

Posted by: Keep it scientific | January 30, 2008 5:52 PM | Report abuse

FYI: Amish don't have restrictions against vaccinations. See articles relating to the outbreak of polio infections in the Amish community of Long Prairie, MN a couple of years ago. A nice writeup in the NYTimes:

Posted by: Anonymous | January 30, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like ABC is promulgating an Urban Legend, that could have sad results.

Posted by: oldhonky | January 30, 2008 9:24 PM | Report abuse

"Truth" makes the case that thimerosal causes mercury poisoning but that seems unlikely. According to emedicine
"Chronic and intense acute exposure [to mercury] causes cutaneous and neurological symptoms. The classic triad found in chronic toxicity is tremors, gingivitis, and erethism (ie, a constellation of neuropsychiatric findings that includes insomnia, shyness, memory loss, emotional instability, depression, anorexia, vasomotor disturbance, uncontrolled perspiration, and blushing)." Less intense acute exposure presents with respiratory symptoms. Other legitimate sites give similar information.
Bottom line: there are CNS symptoms of mercury poisoning, but the overlap with autistic symptoms is pretty limited. Autistic kids may not be social but it doesn't seem to derive from shyness; they may eat limited food but that's due to oversensitivity to oral tactile stimuli rather than loss of appetite, and perspiration and blushing are not common to autism. The mercury poisoning symptoms don't include insistance on sameness, problems seeing things from others' points of view and so on; symptoms seen even in autistic persons of normal or high intelligence.
We hear of kids who started showing symptoms of autism after inoculations, but bear in mind that most kids are inoculated, some kids develop autistic spectrum disorders, and the laws of probability just about guarantee that in some cases those will be together in time, especially when the delay between the inoculation and autistic symptoms is very loosely defined.
It's probably best that mercury containing products are very rarely used in medicine today. But if you interview psychologists who have a knowledge of autism, you'll find that very few if any resist having their own children inoculated.

Posted by: Angela | January 30, 2008 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I understand the desire for answers for parents of autistic children, BUT I agree that it's time to move past the vaccine theory. It's been debunked, plain and simple. How much more money needs to be thrown at it? It's not being ignored. Scientists are going at it hard. Go to and look up the NIH commitment.

Posted by: atb | January 31, 2008 9:25 AM | Report abuse

FYI: Amish don't have restrictions against vaccinations. See articles relating to the outbreak of polio infections in the Amish community of Long Prairie, MN a couple of years ago. A nice writeup in the NYTimes:


My grandmother lived in an Amish farm town in Pennsylvania and I don't remember them having any problem seeing regular doctors either. I kept scratching my head about this insistence that they don't get vaccinated and I kept wondering were were talking about a different Amish order than the ones I knew.

Of course, Amish companies own computers, refrigerators, power tools and trucks, the Amish generally hire people to drive the trucks, but they still own them and it's often funny to see the power lines head from the street to an Amish person's BARN and not their house. People have crazy ideas about who the Amish are, they aren't monks, they're pretty much Americans with some serious religious and community rules. But I mean, you know, Amish teenagers over the age of 18 totally ride minibikes and smoke.

Posted by: DCer | January 31, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Angela, the mercury damages the gut, the brain, not in the exact same place for every autistic person/infant/child...naturally there are differences in the severity of the symptoms, based on where the mercury lodges in the brain, which areas are MOST damaged, which neurons can compensate, treatment to stimulate brain pathways to work around the damage. It is wrong to make so many "specific" symptomatic generalizations about autistic traits "vs." mercury poisoning say because not every one is exactly like the other means that one can not possibly be the cause is incredibly narrow-minded. Again, vaccines may NOT be the initial cause, they may just make additional assault on the mercury-damaged gut/brain... but once the damage is symptoms are developing and continue to develop. Esp. if the mercury is lodged in brain cells, it continues to do it's damage, hence the "regressive" nature of autism...skills learned are often lost.

Posted by: The truth | January 31, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

The Truth: Seriously, you are way out there on this autism message board. All logic is lost. Instead of scare-mongering and rumor-propagating, how about putting some of this intense effort (and maybe creativity?) into research of the scientific variety? You obviously care a great deal about this issue.

Posted by: Keep it scientific | January 31, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I understand mercury is a problem in our environment and food, but this focus on mercury in vaccines is a big problem. It's been beat to death, and there is no correlation. Find another hypothesis. Why waste additional time and money on something that's been studied and studied? It's nothing like the ulcers/bacteria study, which was PROVEN to be correct. Was there resistance to a new idea? Yes. Did the scientific community accept it when it was proven? Yes.

Posted by: atb | February 1, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Truth, that last comment made absolutely no sense. No one is comparing one specific case to another. There are symptoms of mercury poisoning that, given that they are considered characteristic, must be seen in most or all cases. There are symptoms of autism that are seen BY DEFINITION in all cases of autism (omitting PPD-NOS). There is very little overlap in symptoms. If mercury poisoning caused autism, it follows that most autistic children should show or have shown specific mercury poisoning symptoms within a few weeks of the exposure to thimerosal. That does not appear to be the case.
You have been drinking the Geier KoolAid. Geier and Geier, the father and son team who are responsible for perpetuating the vaccination-autism myth, are not neurologists and the journal in which they have published their claims, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, is hardly reputable despite the lofty name. According to a well-documented Wikipedia entry
"Some past articles and commentaries published in the journal have argued:

that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are unconstitutional,[27]
that "humanists" have conspired to replace the "creation religion of Jehovah" with evolution,[28]
that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not caused global warming,[29]
that HIV does not cause AIDS,[30]
that the "gay male lifestyle" shortens life expectancy by 20 years.[31] "

I for one will not make health-related decisions based on materials published in a "journal" that may serve as a neo-con voicepiece. But that's just me.

Posted by: Angela | February 1, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

R- Great posts. It's refreshing to see the families of those with autism speak up about the genetics in the condition.

Posted by: Thanks | February 6, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

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