Grant the anti-childhood vaccine fanatics this, they are dogged. No amount of data, no number of studies from any array of sources will sway them from their assertions that thimerosal, a mercury-containing vaccine preservative once used in many such injections, is causing the so-called “autism epidemic.”
A devastating California Department of Public Health study in the current Archives of General Psychiatry hasn’t swayed them either. Lynne Redwood, co-founder of one anti-vaccine website, warned the Baltimore Sun, “Our children are still getting exposed to mercury.” She cautioned against “clos[ing] the books on thimerosal,” even though the study has slammed them shut.
But, for the rest of us there are two valuable lessons here. First, the lack of a thimerosal connection to the developmental disorder has once again been proved. Second, anti-vaccine activists are truly fanatical. As a British Medical Journal book reviewer rightly said, they live in an “angry and paranoid universe.”
Anti-vaccinators like Redwood operate over 150 websites. Many of these sites claim not only a thimerosal-vaccine connection but a Massive World Wide Conspiracy to cover up the alleged link. The paranoiacs have sent death threats to Public Health Service officials who subsequently quit their jobs in fear.
In the face of such fears, thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines as of March 2001 (except flu shots, which contain a trace amount). This allowed a before and after comparison. The angry paranoids and those who make a living catering to them confidently declared that soon the data would show a dramatic drop in diagnoses.
Indeed they quickly asserted that the data had done so, as did former New York Times writer David Kirby, author of the influential 2005 book Evidence of Harm — Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy.
Never mind that this alleged peak, in 2002, came far too early to have reflected cessation of thimerosal use.
The Geiers make their living as expert witnesses and consultants for lawyers making vaccine harm claims against the government’s National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Big surprise.
NOW THAT THERE has been enough time for serious study, the news is good for parents and bad for the fearmongers. The Archives study evaluated autistic children referred to the state’s Developmental Services System and covered the years 1995 to March of 2007. Children as young as age 3 were evaluated. If thimerosal-preserved vaccines cause autism, the researchers said, diagnoses should have started falling in 2004 — not 2002.
But there has been no plummet, no decline, no leveling. There hasn’t been the least bit of decrease in the increasing number of cases of autism.
“We are reassured that we found no link between routine childhood vaccination and increases in childhood autism in the data,” study lead author and California DPH Medical Officer Robert Schechter, a physician, told the medical e-zine WebMD.
Nor are these findings anomalous. As the Archives paper noted, “Our findings are in concordance with the rigorous 2004 review of at least 12 previous published and unpublished studies by the IOM Immunization Safety Committee, which concluded that the body of evidence rejected a causal relationship between [thimerosal containing vaccines] and autism.”
Included in the IOM review were three studies looking at the entire populations of Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. In all three countries thimerosal-containing vaccines were discontinued in the late 1990s and in all three, as with California, autism rates climbed at the same pace as before.
None of which has done the least to dampen the ardor or arrogance of the anti-vaccinationists, who in fairness aren’t all nuts. Some of them are just opportunists.
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