Institute of Medicine Panel Hears Testimony on Potential Vaccine Link to Autism
Researchers on Monday addressed a possible link between vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, and autism during an Institute of Medicine panel hearing in Washington, D.C., the New York Times reports (Ault, New York Times, 2/10). Autism has increased tenfold since 1985 and continues to increase, Scripps Howard/Detroit News reports (Lowy, Scripps Howard/Detroit News, 2/10). Many scientists contend that increased awareness of the disease and a broadening of its definition to include "milder symptoms" explain at least part of the increase, the Washington Post reports. At the hearing, some scientists "cast new doubt" about a link between autism and thimerosal, pointing to large epidemiological studies conducted in Denmark, the United States and Britain that did not find any link between autism and childhood vaccinations, the Post reports. Elizabeth Miller of the London-based Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, who conducted a study on more than 103,000 British children for the World Health Organization, said, "Overall, there's no evidence of an increased risk for developmental problems, including autism, from (thimerosal) exposure in vaccines given in the U.K. in infancy." Robert Davis of the University of Washington, who studied 223 children in the Seattle area, agreed, saying, "There is no evidence here for an increased risk for autism" (Stein, Washington Post, 2/10).
However, some toxicologists at the meeting said that mercury levels in children with autism are higher, adding that these children might have biochemical defects that prevent them from processing mercury as well as other children, the Times reports (New York Times, 2/10). "I think (autism) is going to be a mercury (excretion) disorder. We cannot prove it at this time," Dr. Vasken Aposhian, a professor at the University of Arizona, said (Scripps Howard/Detroit News, 2/10). In addition, some researchers said that the studies showing no link between vaccinations and autism are "flawed" and that a "raft of research" has shown such a link, the Post reports (Washington Post, 2/10). Dr. Mark Geier, who has been an expert witness for parents of autistic children seeking compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, said that a study of schoolchildren in the Atlanta area that claimed to find no link between autism and thimerosal actually does show that "thimerosal is a major contributor to the autism epidemic." A "vocal group" of parents who believe their children's autism was caused by thimerosal also attended the hearing, the Times reports. In addition, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) said that CDC has ignored links between the vaccine preservative and autism, adding, "I received numerous complaints that this event is not a further attempt to get at the facts but rather a desire to sweep these issues under the rug." However, Tom Skinner, a spokesperson for the agency, said that CDC Director Julie Gerberding is committed "to addressing the importance of autism and vaccine safety with the best possible science and the most effective programs" (New York Times, 2/10). The IOM panel, which was convened at the request of CDC, is not expected to issue its findings for several months, the Post reports (Washington Post, 2/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.