Autism and Vaccination: Who’s a Crackpot Now?

I haven’t written here before on this pet issue of mine, though I’ve talked to folks at AltMuslim and Metafilter about it. Anyway, routine infant vaccination has a lot of critics, and the loudest of them are those who feel the national vaccination program has resulted in the epidemic of autism in this country. This position has been discredited at every turn by pediatricians and public health folks, but now in the New York Times we find this: The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory by Arthur Allen.It’s worth reading if you’re at all interested in the vaccination debate, but I’ll highlight some key points.

The article profiles Neal Halsey, a former American Academy of Pediatrics chairman, who is acknowledging that the thimeresol, a mercury-based preservative, in vaccines may be causing brain damage and autism. The quantities of mercury kids have been getting in their vaccines are orders of magnitude above the EPA-approved maximum exposure.

As many as 30 million American children may have been exposed to mercury in excess of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines — levels of mercury that, in theory, could have killed enough brain cells to scramble thinking or hex behavior.

Most significantly, research into mercury exposure is beginning to show that, like lead, there is almost no lower limit for ill effect. In other words, even trace amounts are bad, especially for small children.

”As they got more sophisticated at testing for lead, the safe level marched down and down, and they continued to find subtle neurological impairment,” Halsey says. ”And that’s almost exactly what happened with mercury.”

As good as it feels to be vindicated by these new findings, I’m not confident that it will produce a rethinking of the whole vaccine program. They’ll just find a non-mercury preservative and declare that now everything is A-OK. There’s no change in philosophy to be seen, and no greater humility. Just listen to this guy:

Paul Offit, a vaccinologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, takes it a step further. ”In some instances I think full disclosure can be harmful,” he says. ”Is it safe to say there is zero risk with thimerosal, when it is remotely possible that one child would get sick? Well, since we say that mercury is a neurotoxin, we have to do everything we can to get rid of it. But I would argue that removing thimerosal didn’t make vaccines safer — it only made them perceptibly safer.”

Thanks to D.M. for the link.

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