Autism: The Mercury Trail; Powerful Evidence Points to a Preservative in Vaccines as the Likely Culprit, Writes Margaret Cook

By Cook, Margaret | New Statesman (1996), August 8, 2005 | Go to article overview

Autism: The Mercury Trail; Powerful Evidence Points to a Preservative in Vaccines as the Likely Culprit, Writes Margaret Cook


Cook, Margaret, New Statesman (1996)


The classic juvenile tactic to get out of a scrape is to deny it vehemently, even if that means claiming black is white. Curiously, governments adopt the same technique, reinforcing their indignant denials with name-calling.

This has been the response from both US and British establishments to parental fears that autism is causally related to vaccines. Andrew Wakefield was sent packing after he suggested MMR vaccines were suspect. His failure to declare an interest in connection with his research was used to destroy his career, even though his lapse pales into insignificance beside the conflicting incentives present in the entire chain of vaccine-policy command from Cabinet Office to consulting room.

But it is more difficult to bully away the question of mercury in vaccines and its putative link with autism. A book published in the US this year, Evidence of Harm by David Kirby, makes a compelling case. Any unbiased doctor who reads it, following the golden rules of listening to the parents' stories and assessing the evidence the book quotes, cannot fail to be persuaded. Yet the response in the British Medical Journal, in a review by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, is to rubbish it in a hectoring tirade, the theme of which is that parents are not reliable witnesses and the experts know best. How dare the parents side with "credulous journalists" and defy the "authoritative US Institute of Medicine"?

Since 1939 a preservative called thiomersal (thimerosal in the US) has been used in some vaccines, and it contains nearly 50 per cent mercury. Mercury is a nerve-cell poison, but the amounts in vaccines were said to be "traces" only. It was used in, among others, the diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccine given in three doses early in infancy. It is not present in MMR or other vaccines containing live viruses. In the US, pre-school vaccinations are compulsory and, under this blanket, jabs upon jabs were added to make a worryingly crowded programme. It was nearly a decade before the Food and Drug Administration added up the mercury being injected into infants in the first few months of life, and then it found that it was well in excess of federal legal limits even for adults. In 1999 regulators in the US and Europe advised phasing out mercury in childhood vaccines in the shortest possible time--while continuing to deny it was harmful. Believe that if you will.

Autism and related disorders were unknown before 1939. …

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