John McCain Enters the Autism Wars

Feb 29, 2008 7:11pm

At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that "there’s strong evidence" that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. — a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.

McCain was responding to a question from the mother of a boy with autism, who asked about a recent story that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had issued a judgment in favor of an unnamed child whose family claimed regressive encephalopathy and symptoms of autism were caused by thimerosal.

"We’ve been waiting for years for kind of a responsible answer to this question, and are hoping that you can help us out there," the woman said.

McCain said, per ABC News’ Bret Hovell, that "It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines."

McCain said there’s "divided scientific opinion" on the matter, with "many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it."

The established medical community is not as divided as McCain made it sound, however. Overwhelmingly the "credible scientists," at least as the government and the medical establishment so ordain them, side against McCain’s view.

Moreover, those scientists and organizations fear that powerful people lending credence to the thimerosal theory could dissuade parents from getting their children immunized — which in their view would lead to a very real health crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control says "There is no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site."

The American Academy of Pediatrics says"No scientific data link thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines with any pediatric neurologic disorder, including autism."

The Food and Drug Administration conducted a review in 1999 — the year thimerosal was ordered to be removed from most vaccines — and said that it "found no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal as a vaccine preservative, other than local hypersensitivity reactions."

The Institute of Medicine’s Immunization Safety Review Committee concluded "that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism."

And a study of California Department of Developmental Services data published last month indicated that there was "an increase in autism in California despite the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines."

Yet there is a vocal, determined, passionate group — including some medical researchers and organizations — who vehemently dispute what the established medical community says about this wrenching issue. One of the questions they ask is why would the thimerosal have been removed from the vaccines if there was no real harm?

(The answer according to the Public Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers was "because any potential risk is of concern.")

In any case, here we have a major political figure, the presumptive Republican nominee, who stated that he at the very least isn’t as sure about thimerosal as the medical establishment is.

Moreover, he made it sound as if the thimerosal is still in vaccines — though as I understand it, thimerosal is all but gone in almost every childhood vaccine now, and has been for years.

This could be quite controversial.

- jpt

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