Vaccine inaction a sore point
Parents say state missed chance to lead on mercury-autism link
By Scott Rothschild, Journal-World
Monday, April 19, 2004
Linda Weinmaster is tired of being patronized.
The Lawrence mother of three sons has been lobbying state and federal officials to take seriously the alleged connection between thimerosal and autism. Thimerosal is a mercury compound used as a preservative in vaccines.
"What we normally get is a pat on the head, and ‘I'm so sorry you have a sick kid,'" said Weinmaster, whose youngest son, 12-year-old Adam, is autistic. Weinmaster believes Adam's disorder was caused by an Rh immune globulin injection she received while she was pregnant.
Now, Weinmaster and other Kansas parents are seeing movement on the federal level and in the state legislative bodies of Iowa and Missouri toward restricting the use of mercury in vaccines. And they are wondering why nothing is being done in Kansas.
"Kansas could've been a leader in the country," Weinmaster said. "This was brought to the attorney general in Kansas, and they had an opportunity to be a trailblazer, to really make a statement that we are going to hold those responsible for damaging these kids," she said.
Last July, a group of parents laid out their allegations before Atty. Gen. Phill Kline and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' staff in separate meetings.
After the meetings, Kline said he would discuss it further with his assistants before deciding what course to take. Sebelius' office said it would rely on federal health agency assurances that rejected the link between thimerosal and neurological problems found in children.
Recently, the attorney general's office said it was taking a wait-and-see approach.
"We are monitoring this on a national level. Based on national research, we've been told that there will be some studies in the next year or so that will clarify this one way or the other," said Jan Lansford, a spokesman for Kline.
In Iowa, lawmakers have approved legislation limiting the amount of mercury to trace amounts in pediatric vaccines, and in Missouri, officials are considering a bill that would prohibit mercury in vaccines.
In Congress, the Mercury-Free Vaccine Act has been filed, which would require that no childhood vaccine have more than one microgram of mercury by January 2005. The same limit would apply to flu shots administered to children this year, and eventually all mercury would be removed by 2007. The measure is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Dave Weldon, a Maryland Republican and doctor, and Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York.
"We don't seem to be getting the kind of response in Kansas as we are in other areas," said Bobbie Manning, who recently moved from Lawrence to upstate New York so that her autistic son, 8-year-old Michael, could attend a specialized school.
"We will keep going to attorney generals' offices and wherever we have to, until we get those powers that be to acknowledge that this warrants an investigation," she said.
Weinmaster and Manning said that mercury needs to be removed from vaccines to prevent further damage, and that those responsible in private industry and the government for covering up the alleged health problems need to be held accountable because the cost to society to take care of harmed children will be astronomical in future years.
"All my life, I have been a fiscal conservative, and now I have a child that is going to have to live off the government as an adult, and it breaks my heart," Weinmaster said.