HealthWatch: Autistic Parents Protest in Washington
by Dr. Kim Mulvihill
A dramatic jump in childhood autism cases is baffling scientists.
While federal health officials say there is no link between childhood vaccines and the mysterious disorder, many parents just don't believe it.
Parents of autistic children protested in Washington Monday, saying a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines caused their children's condition. Now, they want the federal government to turn over data they believe could prove it.
"They're causing further harm by not allowing access to vital statistics and information of adverse vaccine reactions," said Amy Carson, founder of Moms Against Mercury.
The preservative thimerosal has been used in vaccines since the 1930s. Five years ago, the Centers for Disease Control called on vaccine makers to voluntarily remove the preservative as a precaution. But in May, an Institute of Medicine report found no evidence of a link between thimerosal and autism.
While the mercury-based preservative has been phased out of almost all childhood vaccines, it is still found in the flu shots recommended for babies.
"The laboratory evidence points to the fact that mercury isn't good for you," said Dr. Marie McCormick, of the IOM vaccine safety review. "But I don't think it really provides evidence for the chain of events that would have to occur in order for it to be implicated in autism."
Almost 15 years ago, the federal government started a massive database to track the possible side effects of vaccines. IOM is holding meetings this week, trying to decide how to share the information, and parents and independent researchers believe this database may reveal the long-sought-for link.
The government insists that no link exists, but for Nancy Andrieu of San Francisco, a lot is riding on the outcome. She is the mother of two boys, both diagnosed with autism.
"It's really kind of devastated my family," she said. "We're struggling along, trying to get them services, helping them overcome their disabilities, and trying to find out why this happened."
While genetics clearly play a role, Andrieu believes something in the environment must also be to blame.