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Another mercurial finding from the CDC

Sep28

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There’s a new study out this week on thimerosal, the controversial preservative once commonly used in vaccines. Whether or not thimerosal causes autism has been the cause of much debate, and this new study appears, at first, to reassure.
I have to admit, it’s a little intimidating to cover this topic. I know there are parents of autistic children out there who have researched thimerosal until they could get a Ph.D. on it, who catch the subtle nuances in each study, who could argue every point with the medical bigwigs until said bigwigs were left gasping on the floor. Nonetheless, I shall forge ahead, confident only in the knowledge that I’m probably missing some giant piece of the puzzle. I welcome, of course, your corrections or comments.
Let’s start with the inarguable facts. The rate of autism in children has increased at a staggering rate. There has been more than a ten-fold increase in the number of autism cases in the US in the past thirty years. Similar increases have been seen around the world.
The part no one can agree on is why. One recent study suggests that autism is caused by exposure to high levels of testosterone in the womb, creating an “extreme version of the male brain.” Another study blames television: scientists found that autism rates shot up as cable television subscriptions increased, as well as in areas where it rained or snowed a lot, presumably keeping children indoors. (The scientists involved admitted, though, that other factors beyond television could be at play, such as indoor air pollution.)
The main contender, though, has been thimerosal, which is a mercury compound. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, but the type of mercury in thimerosal was thought to leave the system relatively quickly, before it could cause problems. The theory that many now hold—a theory which is supported by some studies– is that thimerosal may be shed by most children, but in some, the mercury builds up until it reaches dangerous levels.
Thimerosal was first introduced into vaccines in the early 1930s, after numerous children died from vaccination-related staph infections. It was phased out of most of them (not including, notably, the flu vaccine) in the late ’90s. As the number of vaccines in infancy and early childhood increased in the past thirty years, the cases of autism skyrocketed. In the late ’90s, the FDA found that some infants, depending on their vaccination schedule and their weight, had been exposed to levels of mercury that exceeded safety guidelines. Consequently, vaccine manufacturers were asked (not required) to reduce or eliminate thimerosal while further studies were conducted. (There is evidence that at least one manufacturer considered and then dismissed removing thimerosal years before: A leaked Merck memo (link is to PDF) from 1991 indicated that the company was aware of the mercury load in infants and children; Swedish researchers had concluded that the load could be eight-seven times the acceptable threshold, and that thimerosal should be removed. Nothine happened.)
Since that decision, the FDA and CDC have backtracked furiously, insisting that the phasing out of thimerosal was a precautionary measure and had no reflection on its actual safety. Meanwhile,several studies have concluded that thimerosal has no relationship to autism. Yet many child-health advocates and parents remain adamant that thimerosal is the hidden culprit. Many accuse public-health researchers of collusion with pharmaceutical companies. (In this latest study, four of the researchers have received fees from drug companies, and the lead author of the study once worked for Merck.) And they cite their own experiences, of watching their lively children withdrawing, becoming shadows of their former selves, weeks after their vaccinations. They also quote an intriguing study from 2006, which found that since thimerosal was removed from many vaccines, autism rates have gone down.
This latest study is being heralded as the final word on thimerosal. “Mercury-Containing Vaccine Vindicated!” crowed ABC News. (Hello, ABC? It’s not the vaccine that was being studied. Let’s get our facts straight.) In this CDC-funded study, 1,000 children between the ages of seven and ten, all of whom were exposed to various levels of thimerosal as babies, were assessed. The findings, according to ABC (and several other media outlets): there was little difference between those children and the ones with low exposure to thimerosal.
Conclusion? Thimerosal is absolutely safe! Let’s all have a thimerosal cocktail and call it a day!
One of the strangest aspects to this study is that it was not designed to address autism concerns. Which begs the question: uh, why not? When the vaccination/autism link has been so hotly contested in the past ten years, why would researchers go out of their way to study the effects of thimerosal on neurological functioning, and avoid testing for autism? Especially when they were thorough enough to study 42 aspects of neurological functioning?
Despite their express avoidance of the A word, there’s a fairly damning finding from the study that’s been glossed over by the media: the increase in facial tics associated with thimerosal. Boys who had been given vaccines with thimerosal were over twice as likely to develop tics. Over at the Huffington Post, journalist David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm, points out this weird disconnect between the study’s findings and its conclusion. There are no neurological risks associated with thimerosal, they say, except for these, um, neurological risks. “Tics,” by the way, can involve anything from the occasional throat clearing to repetitive movements and sounds that eerily resemble many autistic behaviors. (The study authors didn’t specify what sort of tics were found.) As Kirby says, “…if ‘simple’ tics include head jerks and barking; and ‘complex’ tics can entail biting, banging and screaming obscenities; and if thimerosal can more than double the chance of tics in boys; then Atlanta, we have a very big problem.”
So it seems that this study isn’t the final word that the CDC hopes it will be. In addition to the tic behavior, the study has been criticized for its methodology: only 30% of approved families agreed to participate, a relatively low level, and the children were tested at a fairly late age, well after speech and other therapies might have (hypothetically) improved their functioning.
Let’s hope a definitive study comes out one of these days, if it ever does. I never thought myself a conspiracy theorist, but the more I read, the more inescapable one fact becomes: a study that found a link between thimerosal and autism would prove disastrous to the pharmaceutical industry, opening them up to billions of dollars worth of lawsuits. And that might be a good enough reason for everyone to keep their mouths shut, and their researchers obedient.

About the author

Alice Bradley

http://www.finslippy.com
Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


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37 Responses to “Another mercurial finding from the CDC”

  1. Cobwebs Sep 28 at 3:47 pm Reply Reply

    As I understand it, at least part of the reason why autism rates have increased is because the “autism” diagnosis has been expanded to include a much wider spectrum of behavior. So it’s not really that there’s a lot more autism so much as there’s a lot more things that are being called autism.

  2. Laura Sep 29 at 5:41 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t know whether autism can be caused by thimerosal. I do know the mere question was enought to concern me. So my daughter goes to a pediatrician who uses thimerosal-free vaccines.
    And when I was pregnant, I jumped through many, many hoops to get a thimerosal-free flu vaccine for myself. (Why expose her in the womb? And yes, it was necessary for me to have the vaccine. If I don’t get the vaccine, I DO get the flu. And high fevers aren’t safe in pregnancy, either.) In Colorado, the thimerosal-free vaccine was only available in an infant dose. After calling many docs and being turned down, the nurse in charge of the vaccination program at the county health department contacted the CDC to get written permission for me to have a double dose of infant vaccine. Even then, only one pediatrician was willing to give it to me. Needless to say, he’s now my daughter’s pediatrician.
    Apparently I was the first pregnant woman in Boulder County to demand the thimerosal-free vaccine for myself. But if we’re worried about it in our babies, why aren’t we just as worried when we’re pregnant?

  3. AEMom Sep 29 at 8:50 pm Reply Reply

    My 8 year old son has autism (Asperger Syndrome) and was never exposed to Thimerosol. I backtracked afterwards and found that all the vaccines he has been given were Thimerosol free as of 1997. This is true of all the standard vaccines given in Canada (the flu shot is an exception). A study conducted by the Autism Centre of the Montreal Children’s Hospital concluded that the rates of autism have INCREASED since 1997, which shoots down the thimerosol = autism connection. Based on my research, I personally believe that autism is primarily a genetic condition that is triggered by something. For some kids, it’s something in the womb, for others it’s a food, or a chemical, or even perhaps in some children a vaccine. But it could even be something in the vaccine itself. My family has participated in a genetic study that is hoping to learn exactly how to develop a genetic test for autism. I hope to live to see the day when they have one and a 100 % succesful treatment for the most severely affected people.

  4. cagey Sep 30 at 2:08 am Reply Reply

    Cobwebs has a valid point.
    My brother, now in his late teens, was diagnosed in the 1980s just outside of the spectrum of autism – i.e. he was NOT considered autistic, despite having many of the “symptoms” of it. My nephew at just over the age of 4 was diagnosed within the spectrum of autism. Actually, he was just diagnosed YESTERDAY, so I admit I am still emotional on the topic.
    Based upon behavioral patterns that we are intimately familiar with in my own family, we can see clearly that the differences in “diagnoses” have changed dramatically in the past 15 years, which can skew numbers. Meaning, the diagnosis for autism has been honed and refined over the years. My brother, 15 years ago, was NOT included in those numbers. Maybe he should have been. We will never know now.
    I hope this makes sense and that I phrased all that correctly.
    I really appreciate all of your links to the variety of studies. I suspect we will be looking at all of them over the next few weeks as we try to make sense of my nephew’s recent diagnosis.
    I also feel compelled to note that I am a HUGE advocate for vaccines as a simple public health issue – I had a classmate die from chickenpox when I in the 2nd grade. To have a classmate die when you are 7 years old is absolutely mind blowing. Furthermore, my own husband had chickenpox as an adult, which was quite serious at the time. I do not take vaccines lightly, in any situation.
    But still. It all changes when you have your own children, does it not? I type this comment as my own son turns 2 in a few weeks – just on the cusp of getting yet another round of vaccines.
    And I wonder. How can I not, with all this laid out before me?

  5. Angel Sep 30 at 3:40 am Reply Reply

    To me, it never made sense why mercury in fish=BAD, mercury in thermometers=BAD, but mercury in vaccines=VERY GOOD AND SAFE.
    My daughter was vaxed, my son is not. Honestly, I think he’d be a far different kid if he had been.
    I think there may be a predisposed tendency towards autism, and certain triggers flip that switch to “on”. I’m not into conspiracy theories, but this whole mess stinks.
    Very good article, I learned a few new things, thank you!

  6. Angel Sep 30 at 3:52 am Reply Reply

    Sorry to comment again…I just re-read what you posted about tics.
    My daughter was fully vaxxed on schedule. When she was 10, she developed strep–and severe facial tics. She probably had at least 20 tics a minute. Thankfully it has gotten more mild, but pops up when she’s tired or stressed. Now I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t just the strep (which can cause an autoimmue response) but her exposure to mercury as an infant?
    ::sigh:: The hard part of parenting really sucks.

  7. chiquita Oct 01 at 1:35 pm Reply Reply

    there is way more mercury present in the environment than in vaccines.

  8. Rachel Oct 01 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    I think that a great argument could be made for conspiracy when it comes to what pharmaceutical companies have to lose with this issue. However, one good rebuttal of that conspiracy theory is that a lot of us know our family doctors well and I, for one, cannot imagine the doctors I’ve known carrying on with a program that they know or truly believe to be harming children. My doctors are parents themselves, and I’ve had discussions with them about this, and I just don’t think that takers of the hippocratic oath are going to be keeping closed mouthed in order to help drug companies. Presumably doctors have access to the most recent medical journals and published studies, and the training to critically interpret them. They also see so many children that they would be good sources in a broad anecdotal way. This gives me just a bit of relief to my anxiety about this issue with regards to vaccinating my own children. It really is a hard topic for parents.
    One more thing – it is only on the backs of those who do vaccinate their kids that people can be freed to decide not to, since many of these diseases are kept virtually erradicated because of the vaccination program and therefore aren’t really a concern these days and so parents can shrug off the vaccination more easily if they have concerns about the vaccine. The more parents that choose not to vaccinate, the more complicated this decision will become as the risk of getting the disease becomes greater when weighed against the risk of the vaccine.

  9. Ayla-Monic Oct 01 at 6:52 pm Reply Reply

    Thimerosol is the main reason why my family hasn’t done any vaccinations since we were just wee babies. My younger brother has Asperger’s Syndrome, which many consider to be part of the Autism Spectrum (but some, like my mother, don’t.)
    What my Mom is quite sure of is that Thimerosol doesn’t necessarily CAUSE autism, but can TRIGGER it in children who are already genetically or environmentally predisposed to it.
    This would be why we didn’t do vaccines. My mum didn’t want my Asperger’s Syndrome brother to end up with full-blown autism. Also, my youngest brother is dyslexic and has enough social ineptitudes that there was always the worry about him being affected as well.
    My older brothers were vaccinated throughout their childhood, until my Asperger’s brother was a couple years old, since before then my mother wasn’t aware of the concerns regarding Thimerosol, and they turned out fine. No autistic spectrum behaviour. (for the sake of clarification, the reason the two younger boys would both have autistic-like conditions and the older boys not = different fathers.)
    As far as I know, there is a lot of evidence that autism can be a genetically inherited condition. My father was Asperger’s, as well. Girls with autism and autism spectrum conditions are notoriously rare, but they do occur, so chances are it is sex-linked. (X-chromosome rather than Y, since girls DO get it, though rarely)
    Now, some genetic traits that are there in the genes, programmed into the DNA and all, don’t actually show up. “Incomplete Penetration” is the term, I believe.
    As an example: Say you have some genes, and they code for proteins that work together to produce a neurotypical human being. Each gene may have multiple versions (e.g. brown eye gene vs. blue eyed gene. same gene, different version), and perhaps one version of one of those brain-protein genes is a malfunctioning version. That malfunctioning gene may be completely malfunctioning – in which case, the human would show atypical behaviour – or, it may be partially functioning… perhaps it functions enough to produce neurotypical behaviour.
    Enter something like Thimerosol. Maybe the reason some children can’t clear it from there system is that malfunction gene, and the buildup of mercury triggers autism. Or maybe the buildup causes the gene to malfunction completely, making it both impossible to clear out the mercury, and producing atypical neurological behaviour.
    Um. Yeah. I’m not sure where I was going with that… That’s my take on it, anyway.

  10. jenalda Oct 01 at 7:45 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve read quite a bit on this subject, and from what I’ve read, the original study that linked thimerosal to autism was authored by 10 researchers, 8 of whom have now recanted their statements in that study. In addition, most of the research I’ve seen says that autism rates have continued to rise while the number of vaccines containing thimerosal have decreased, meaning there probably isn’t a link. To me, it’s a lot riskier to forgo vaccinations for deadly diseases, many of which are on the threshold of being eliminated altogether in the developed world. The winter my baby was a newborn and thus too young for flu vaccinations was the winter that about seven or eight young children in Colorado died from the flu–none had received the flu vaccine. That’s horrifying, really, and seems to me to be a much more certain threat than a hypothetical link between thimerosal and autism. How would you live with yourself as a parent if you’d decided not to vaccinate your child and he or she died as a result? (I know the flu shot isn’t bulletproof and only covers certain strains of the flu, but it does help.)

  11. Mary Oct 01 at 8:56 pm Reply Reply

    Sidestepping the connection between thimerosal and autism for the moment, there’s something I still don’t understand: why are people not vaccinating *now*–when there are thimerosal-free vaccines readily available? It just doesn’t make sense to me. And I say this as someone with a daughter who is on the spectrum, it looks like (in the process of being evaluated).

  12. dd Oct 02 at 12:13 am Reply Reply

    Ayla-Monic -
    There is actually no speculation about whether or not Asperger’s is on the Autism spectrum. It is on the very mild end of a range of disorders, the most disabling of which is Autism.
    And there is very little debate among professionals dealing with people on the Autism spectrum regarding thimerosal. It is quite largely dismissed as a possibility at this point. That the general public is not better informed of the current issues in the field is perhaps the fault of those reporting the issues and perhaps the fault of those perpetuating dated research topics.
    At any rate, whatever the cause, the MOST IMPORTANT THING to get across is early diagnosis and treatment. The syndromes can be diagnosed by a psychologist, medical doctor, or speech language pathologist around the age of 18 months, though current research is moving that age even earlier.
    With early treatment, the child’s language and social development can far exceed what would normally develop (considering a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum).
    The amount of interest and awareness of the disorder is definitely a good thing! Thanks for a great post

  13. Sarah Oct 02 at 1:03 am Reply Reply

    Ahh, Rachel, I hope your doctors are as trustworthy and vigilant as you give them credit for. Alas, like many of us, doctors are apt to be content with knowing what they know and, like the rest of us, they don’t always have the time or inclination to be totally up to date on all the latest findings.
    I cannot add anything substantial to the discussion about autism here that hasn’t already been said, but I can say I have often tried to engage my pediatricians on some of these unorthodox topics and it is clear that most of them (two out of three) have read less on the topics than I have. (And I am no scholar, just a reasonably well-read layman.) I value my peds opinion on these matters, but I no longer have confidence in them to know everything about medicine.

  14. Marcy Oct 02 at 10:36 am Reply Reply

    I have to believe that at least one large part of the increase in Autism rates has more to do with diagnosis than anything else. Children who are now considered Autistic would have simply been labeled idiots (or idiot savants) 30+ yrs ago. Perhaps rates really have risen as well, but the increased awareness of this syndrome and its symptoms has to account for a decent part of it.
    We also have the always tricky fact that correlation does not imply causation. Showing even a link between thimerosal and Autism simply means they might be linked in some way, but to automatically draw the conclusion that one causes the other is a bit of a jump.
    And, of course, as many others have mentioned, there’s the weighing of risks. My husband cannot understand why on earth parents would not vaccinate their kids, and sees even Autism as a small price to pay to avoid contracting TB, polio, or any of the other diseases we vaccinate against that would have far more disastrous results. Especially in a world where we can travel everywhere so easily, so even if a disease seems virtually nonexistent in your home country, a trip abroad could lead to exposure (and an un-vaccinated person risking everyone else s/he later comes in contact with).

  15. Marcy Oct 02 at 10:45 am Reply Reply

    PS- according to the FDA, thimerosal has been eliminated from all vaccines recommended for children under 7 yrs old (except for the flu vaccine, which has trace amounts). I thought this was interesting info to throw into the mix.
    http://www.fda.gov/cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm#t1

  16. Robin in San Jose Oct 02 at 2:18 pm Reply Reply

    Angel, very interesting comment. On the subject of facial tics, my 12-year-old son suddenly developed a pretty noticeable nose wrinkle tic this summer. Feedback can be really helpful in eliminating such tics. I put a piece of tape across the bridge of his nose that would tug at the skin each time he did the tic. The tic disappeared almost immediately with the tape on, and without it over a period of two days. It will pop out again every now and then when, like you noted, he is tired or stressed. He comes from a long, proud line of tic-ridden people (both grandpas, and dad) so I wasn’t surprised to see a tic develop.

  17. caramama Oct 02 at 3:28 pm Reply Reply

    Mary: You asked why people still don’t vaccinate when the vaccines are “thimerosal-free.” From some research I’ve done, I’ve heard that one reason is because there are many other additives in the vaccines that parent’s are comfortable with, in addition to the nature of vaccinations themselves, which contain either live cultures or synthetics of the disease itself (if I understand correctly). Besides thimerosal, other additives include preservatives such as formaldehyde, and I’ve heard that they still contain aluminum (a neurotoxin). And in addition to autism, people worry about affects of the vaccinations on children who possibly have any of a variety of auto-immune deficiencies.
    I also know that many parents believe that most of the diseases are worth the risk of not vaccinating. They believe the body’s natural immune system, especially the natural booster that it gets if a child contracts and gets over the disease, will handle/prevent the disease better than the lab-made vaccinations. Also, most of the diseases we get vaccinations for are not life-threatening in this day and age.
    What concerns me is the lack of very large studies following children long-term to see what kind of effects these vaccinations have in the minority of cases? To me, 1000 children is not a large enough sample size for our population. And does it include those who genetically are more likely to have an auto-immune deficiency? (I hope this makes sense and that I’m using the correct terminology. I’m only beginning my research in this area.) Infants are so small and just developing–how can we know what harm vaccinations cause in them unless this is studied in much more detail?
    That being said, I still don’t know what to do…

  18. Biologist Oct 02 at 7:40 pm Reply Reply

    The first rule of biomedical research is that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Any two factors which have both increased in the last 20 years will will show a positive correlation when you graph them together. So increases in vaccinations and in autism diagnosis correlate, as do autism diagnosis and TV veiwing hours, and so do vaccinations and TV veiwing hours since both have increased over the last twenty years. That doesn’t mean that an increase in vaccination rates caused an increase in hours spent watching television! Merek doesn’t need to spearhead a conspiracy to keep scientists from researching the connection between vaccinations and autism, rather the reason they are providing money to this feild is that they have to bribe people to do these studies.
    Most money for biomedical research in the US comes from government sources such as the Nation Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the people who sit on the grant commities of these institutions are entrusted with distributing the very limited public funds to the research they believe will make the most impact in our understanding of human health. They are simply never going to offer the millions of (tax payer)dollars which it would take to do a rigorous study of effects of thimerosal on autism when the original connection is so very tenuous.

  19. Liz Oct 02 at 9:54 pm Reply Reply

    caramama,
    1. The reason diseases such as mumps, measles and rubella are not lifethreatening thses days is BECAUSE WE HAVE VACCINES. There is nothing inherently different about the pathogenesis of these diseases that differs from the way they were fifty years ago. And since they are viruses, we cannot treat them with antibiotics, and vaccination is our sole defense against them. Believe me, if everyone stopped vaccination, it would be catastrophic. Children would be dying from rubella, infants born to mothers with rubella would be blind, kids with polio would be crippled or retarded. Vaccines are why we are safe; “this day and age” has nothing else to save us from these diseases.
    2. Parents who believe that these diseases are not worth the risk of vaccination are either grossly misinformed and uneducated, or just plain stupid, in which case they should listen to their pediatricians and not endanger their children or the population at large by contributing to the pool of unvaccinated individuals in the population. In 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases of polio, resulting in 3100 deaths (the statistics did not include those left paralyzed or crippled). Our immune systems are good to fight colds, flus and the like. They can fight off polio, measles or mumps MOST of the time…for MOST people…but there’s no predicting who will or will not be able to fight these diseases, and it is a matter of public health and safety for everyone to be vaccinated. How can a parent think 60,000 cases of polio with over three thousand deaths and hundreds of others left crippled be “worth” the risk of not vaccinating? It certainly wouldn’t be if it was their kid who was killed or paralyzed by a disease that is 100% PREVENTABLE.

  20. marian Oct 03 at 12:20 pm Reply Reply

    Bravo, Alice! I’m very glad that someone who has such a large public forum of mothers is showing the courage you have here. Nice work!

  21. dorothy Oct 03 at 12:49 pm Reply Reply

    Two thoughts on this topic, one of which will most likely get me killed.
    1) I purposefully found a ped who would give my daughter vaccinations without that stuff in them. It seems like an easy solution to me.
    2) I prayed as I watched the shots go in, but I prayed for the ability to accept whatever happens to my daughter in this life.
    Regardless of whether or not we “allow” (an option not available for those of us who put our children in institutional daycare, where vaccinations are required) our children to get vaccines, we can’t control whether or not our children become austistic, any more than we can control whether they develop any other disease or condition in life. Parents need to give up the idea that we can protect our kids from everything – or that we should. Our job as parents is to provide a loving, supportive environment – as safe of an environment as possible – but “safe” may not mean “foolproof.” It’s a big, scary world, and nothing is foolproof. As a new mother, I drove myself nuts worrying about everything, until that day I had to decide about the vaccines and realized no matter what happened, I would still love my daughter and be able to tell her I’d done what I truly believed to be best for her – I protected her in the way I knew best from disease. I view vaccinations the same way I do letting my child leave the house every day – it’s a calculated risk, but one that enables her to interact with the outside world. I want her to be able to travel freely and be friends with kids who travel freely and whose parents travel freely – and to me, that means vaccinating her against diseases that very much still exist in a world where people die every day of diarrhea.

  22. Ellen Oct 03 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to throw a whole different monkey wrench into this. What if the kids that are diagnosed with autism after vaccinations are kids that would have gotten encephalitis or meningitis, become blind or deaf, or some other neurological problem when contracting the disease (measles, mumps, etc). We know these things can happen with these diseases, and what if the kids who were susceptible to those terrible side effects, get the vaccine which is a “mild” form or killed form of the disease, and instead of getting the bad side effect of the disease, they had a “milder” neurological reaction–autism? No way to prove it. No way to screen for it. And outbreaks of measles and mumps do occur occasionally now, and kids can still die. It’s scary, whichever way you want to look at it. And yes, I vaccinated my kids. I grew up before many of the vaccines they give today (except for DPT; and I remember the first polio vaccine on sugar cubes). I had measles, mumps, chicken pox, German measles as a child. Looking forward to shingles as an old person! (not)

  23. Heidi Oct 04 at 11:10 am Reply Reply

    As the mom of a 10-month-old, I have been agonizing over the fast-approaching 12-month ped visit and the recommended schedule of vaccines. I hesitated to read this article because discussion on this topic always seems to ignite such passion on both sides. I was pleasantly surprised by both the original article and the subsequent discussion in comments and thank you and your readers for a well-reasoned presentation of this controversial topic.

  24. RIAN Oct 04 at 1:18 pm Reply Reply

    I must comment on this. I work for a dr and we treat Autism. I see the effects of thimerosal on a daily basis. Now we do not believe that it causes autism. But is a factor. Another factor is that vaccines also have aluminum in them, which can cause speech delays. Genetics and immune issues are part of the puzzle also. But it is the vaccines that push these kids over the edge into full blown autism. There bodies are not capable of detoxing the metals and thus the make themselves at home in the organs. Causing all kinds of neurological problems.
    Thimerosal is still in the flu vaccine. Our office has to special order thimerosal free vaccines. And even though they said they have removed it from many vaccines, please remember that they have very long shelf lives. While they were making the thimerosal free ones they were also clearing off there shelves. It’s all about money people and they weren’t just going to throw those out.
    The link between mercury and autism will never come to light. There is too much money wrapped up in the whole thing. The FDA and CDC are run by drug companies and the drug companies clearly don’t care how many people the harm or kill as long as the bottom line is good.

  25. sarah Oct 04 at 6:55 pm Reply Reply

    Liz on Oct. 3 at 21:54:
    Thank you for that response. You are 100% spot on. Amen to that, sister. It is frightening how misinformed about these things people can be.

  26. Liz Oct 05 at 12:08 am Reply Reply

    I had whooping cough as a kid (and chronic mild asthma as a result), lost 4 months of school from it. Chicken pox, too — on my TONGUE!
    My mom had friends who died of polio and measles. My step-mother’s mom had a weak heart her whole life as a result of scarlet fever when she was a kid.
    These are the diseases we’re vaccinating against. Autism is horrible, but I’m not convinced that it’s caused by vaccination. Death by preventable diseases is even worse and we know that vaccination can prevent them.

  27. kenslow Oct 05 at 4:57 am Reply Reply

    I have three children, the first two who have been fully vaccinated, and my youngest who was not. I don’t know why but in my gut, my mother’s instinct told me NOT to vaccinate my last baby. At the time I had no knowledge of Thimerosal, heavy metal poisoning, genetic links, etc. All I know is that the vaccination felt totally wrong and I stand behind my instinct 100%. Today he’s 6 1/2, in first grade, and doing SO well.

  28. Analiese Oct 06 at 1:52 pm Reply Reply

    Alice,
    Disclaimer: Like you stated I write this knowing only that I’m probably missing a big piece of the puzzle. :o)
    One thing you mentioned is that of parents sharing “their own experiences, of watching their lively children withdrawing, becoming shadows of their former selves, weeks after their vaccinations.”
    I think there’s a chance that there may be a couple of things going on here and it might be important to differentiate.
    I was speaking to a pediatrician one day (I’m a nurse) and she said that Autism is not a regressive disorder. Meaning a child with Autism fails to meet developmental milestones (and develops other symptoms characteristic of the syndrome). But describing a child who suddenly regresses, withdraws and loses developmental milestones becoming a shadow of his/her former self does not describe Autism, according to the Dr. I spoke to. Now if that is happening to children (and I believe it happens, though I’m not sure it’s vaccine related) that is a major problem that needs to be researched. But it might not Autism.
    I speak from limited knowledge but I bring this up because if we are lumping two things together that really are different that could be part of the confusion. If there is Autism and then there’s this different thing that happens to children after they’ve gotten vaccines where they actually regress (and maybe the end result resembles Autism?) then it seems we’re actually dealing with two different issues that need to be discussed independently. But I haven’t heard this issue mentioned in any vaccine debate.
    Any thoughts??

  29. class factotum Oct 07 at 2:29 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t have any kids, but I do have an opinion on vaccines. The previous poster is correct — children used to die of the diseases we vaccinate against today. My great-great-grandmother watched all seven of her children die in six days from diptheria. She went on to have six more children, which is why I’m here.

  30. Judy Oct 08 at 6:10 pm Reply Reply

    Analiese, I believe that the doctor you spoke with may be misinformed. Autism can absolutely cause a child to lose already demonstrated skills! In fact, the majority of autism cases are of the regressive type.
    I’d also like to address the idea that “it’s not really that there’s a lot more autism so much as there’s a lot more things that are being called autism.” There have of course been strides made in identifying and diagnosing autism. However, I cannot accept that the 800+% increase in autism between 1992 and 2003 was due in any major way to the changing definition of autism.
    Think about it. Autism is a pretty recognizable disorder for the most part. The child doesn’t communicate appropriately, there is usually a lack of eye contact, there are atypical behaviors, an insistence on routine, sensory issues. Now granted there are varying degrees to which a child may be affected. And absolutely it’s probable that 15 years ago a small percentage of autistic kids were misdiagnosed with mental retardation or some other neurological disorder.
    But how many people did you know in 1992 that had a family member or knew somebody with autism way back when? And how many do you know today? I’m not talking about mild autistic tendencies or some social awkwardness that may or may not be autism. I’m talking about full-blown, no-denying-it autism. I don’t know about your world but you can’t swing a cat around here without hitting an autistic kid, including my own.
    Another thing to consider. The number of vaccinations given to children has also risen dramatically. Currently, it is recommended that children receive 24 vaccinations by the age of 18 months. Compare that to the 14 immunizations suggested in 1995. That is a large load for an immature immune system. It may be the straw that broke the camel’s back for some kids with a genetic predisposition to autism. More and more, research is confirming an immunological component to many cases of autism.
    There are other components to vaccines that should be considered besides just the thimerasol. As a couple of commentors have already noted, vaccines may include formaldehyde, sulfates, aluminum hydroxide, phenols, and glutamates. For those of you that have been following the research into the genetic components of autism, you may recognize that term. The genes that they’ve recently identified as the as most likely those that cause autism? They’re the genes that deal with glutamates as neurotransmitters.

  31. dd Oct 08 at 6:48 pm Reply Reply

    Analiese
    That nurse is incorrect about regression. It is common for a child to start developing normally and then suddenly regress with disorders on the Autism spectrum. I treated a child in just that condition as a student studying speech-language pathology. Around the age or 2, his language skills and joint attention skills flew out the window. (Not a vaccinated child, for those who would pin the regression on vaccines…).

  32. Kristen Oct 11 at 1:57 am Reply Reply

    My son was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 1/2 years old. In addition, my husband’s nephew was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s, as was his first cousin’s son. And if I go back further into my father-in-law’s side of the family, there are quite a few very intelligent, yet socially “odd” people on the family tree. That makes a pretty strong argument for genetics being the root cause of autism.
    That being said, I think that the sheer numbers of vaccinations kids get (24 vaccinations by the time they are 18 months old, as a previous poster pointed out) is a trigger for a genetically compromised and/or allergically predisposed immune system.
    I have often wondered about the medical community’s rush to get children vaccinated in as short of time as possible. Perhaps the key to safer vaccinations is to spread them out over a longer period of time and give them in smaller doses, to allow the child’s immune system an opportunity to develop.

  33. Jeffrey Dach MD Oct 12 at 12:52 pm Reply Reply

    The Most Bitter Debate
    There is no greater rancor in medicine than the autism-vaccine debate, and this debate has reached the federal vaccine court where 5000 autistic kids and their families are requesting compensation for vaccine injury.
    In California it is a illegal to inject newborns with the mercury containing vaccines (such as the Hep-B Shot, and it should be crime in your state as well.
    Hepatitis B is transmitted with IV drug abuse, or via sexual transmission, both of which are somewhat impossible for newborns. It is much safer to wait until the child is 3 years old to give the shot.
    Hopefully, the injection of mercury into newborns will soon become a relic of the ancient past, taking its rightful place in the museum along with bloodletting and leeches. Until then, there is much work to be done to remove mercury from our vaccinations. As a nation, we can’t afford not to.
    Read more at:
    Autism and Mercury Vaccines by Jeffrey Dach MD
    http://jeffreydach.com/2007/10/11/autism-vaccines-and-robert-f-kennedy-jr-by-jeffrey-dach-md.aspx
    Jeffrey Dach MD
    4700 Sheridan Suite T
    Hollywood Fl 33021
    954-983-1443
    my web site
    http://www.drdach.com/

  34. Alison Morrow Oct 15 at 1:31 am Reply Reply

    We don’t vax our children, and I resent being called ignorant and stupid for making that choice. I researched for months, read a bazillion books and reports, and sobbed the night before my daughter’s 4 month pedi visit where I would have to say yes or no to the shots because I was so torn over the decision. Do not think for a second that people who make this decision do so flippantly or without putting in an insane amount of time trying to figure out what they think is the right thing to do. You haven’t walked in my shoes; don’t criticize my decision when you have absolutely NO idea what went into me making it.

  35. Susan Oct 17 at 12:20 am Reply Reply

    I’d just like to second Alison above. I would wager that those of us who have chosen not to vaccinate our children have researched this issue far more than pretty much everyone else responding to this post. (And far more than my doctor, who apparently didn’t get past “Well, my med school said vaccinations were good.” We know it’s an unusual choice and we know it opened our kids up to potential danger, but we’ve read enough to realize that the conventional wisdom on this one might be incorrect. Several people above have pointed out various toxins that are added to vaccines, including formaldehyde and aluminum and I will add that the blood-brain barrier is still maturing around six months of age, meaning toxins that might give a pass to an older child or adult can lodge in the brain of a young infant and stay there for life.
    I’d also like to point out that this “day and age” does make many of these illnesses less prevalent and less potent and that some vaccines do inoculate for bacterial diseases that can be treated with antibiotics. Also, although urbanization and international travel certainly enhance infection rates, modern levels of hygiene decrease them. Yay, soap and water. But the most important thing I think we in the modern world should know now is how to build and maintain our immune systems better than people did 50 or even 100 years ago.
    Which brings me to my next point. One of the posters above was expressing a very zen attitude about accepting the dangers of the world because we couldn’t control everything and I would like to first flip this equation over for her and tell her that I am much more comfortable accepting the dangers of some of these old and well-known diseases than the unknown, but darkly hinted at dangers of the vaccinations. This might well be a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. What’s more, there are many things that we actually can control that can help us avoid dangers and no, I don’t lie awake all night worrying about them. For instance, I feed my daughter a healthy diet of organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc, with very little dairy and no refined sugars. (It’s actually not that hard if you eat that way yourself.) It might just be luck, but she is the healthiest kid I’ve ever met. So don’t worry yourself to death over every little thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider ways to lighten your danger load. You have more control than you might think you do.
    Finally, the whole vaccination thing lost credibility for me when chicken pox was added to the vaccine schedule. That was a purely economic decision and is probably responsible for the rise of shingles today because people are no longer getting regular immunity boosts from their community. In fact, shingles is now being seen in children, something that simply never happened before the vaccine and this is probably a result of the fact that vaccines give you only partial immunity. The human immune system has been evolving for millions of years. To think that we can just come in and circumnavigate it is simpleminded at best and might well be disastrous.
    All you parents out there who chose to vaccinate your kids- hey, that’s great. More power to you. And maybe in a couple hundred years science will have concluded that you were right. But frankly, science has jumped the gun a few too many times for me to have that much faith in it. (Anybody remember DDT? That was supposed to be good for us, too. Uh, until all the sudden it wasn’t.) Don’t assume that those of us who have made other choices are ignorant of the issues or careless. If anything, we are being overly cautious and I’ll err on the side of caution any day.

  36. Jennifer Oct 26 at 2:27 pm Reply Reply

    Alison and Susan:
    Amen, amen, amen. And thank you.
    I am blown away at the number of people who so easily throw out the “uninformed” and “ignorant” labels on to those who have chosen not to vaccinate. My children have been vaccinated — except for the cp vax for reasons Susan outlined above and on my chosen schedule, not one set for economic and monetary reasons by the HMOs and their powerful lobbies — but I nearly went the no-vax route rather than the delayed vax route. In researching these decisions, I was continually impressed by the knowledge of the parents who decided not to vaccinate. As a group, they were far, far, FAR more informed than the “I just followed the schedule my doctor gave and I don’t even know what shots my children have had” majority.

  37. molly Nov 01 at 1:05 pm Reply Reply

    I come at this issue as a mother of a little girl who has Aspergers.
    I do think that the rise in diagnosis is about awareness, information availability, education, better diagnosis, and very competetive parenting. By awareness i mean that parents and community members are aware of a childs behavior and notice innapropriate behavior. By information availability i mean media and internet allow parents to research any subject immediately. By education I mean the prevalance of well child check ups and early screening effort by public schools. Better and more acurate diagnosis means fewer children labeled anti social, ADHD, or retarded when they are on the spectrum.
    And last but not least, parents are extremely competetive, often asking and comparing development schedules, milestones complete with stats from their pediatricians. Parenting has become an exstension of ego. While I generally think this is a negative, the upside is parents are far more aware and thinking critically about behavior and what it can mean.
    I also firmly believe that Autism is genetically based. One theory i never hear discussed is how the pairing of parents affects children. With more time and resources put into the dating process, folks have a much greater chance of finding someone whose personality and behaviors are very similar. Is it a coincidence that my husband and i have similar thought processes and behaviors, obsessive tendencies, etc? Are we breeding for autism?

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