Autism Report Completely Unfounded and Wholly Irresponsible

Aubrey Stimola
June 25, 2004

The June 22nd CBS evening news item ‘Vaccines Linked to Autism’ by Sharyl Attkisson was a journalistic atrocity. Where did she get her information?
Based on the degree of factual inaccuracy, the litany of unsupported claims, and the obvious reliance on anecdotal evidence over sound science, my bet would be from some alarmist group still looking to blame thimerosal, a mercury-derived vaccine preservative, for causing autism.

How many times can this be said: Repeated studies have established no causal link between autism and thimerosal exposure from routine pediatric vaccines. The Institute of Medicine issued a report last month stating exactly that, as have several other health organizations including the National Immunization Program of the CDC. These reports are based on many peer reviewed studies. Therefore, to continue to blame vaccines for autism simply because the onset of autistic symptoms coincides temporally with the pediatric vaccination schedule buys into a dangerous causal fallacy, and may lead parents to opt out of having their children immunized. This will put them and their school and family contacts at increased risk for contracting a number of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Not that it matters given the above facts, but the statement that “a half dozen childhood vaccines still have mercury” is completely erroneous.

According to the CDC, none of the routine vaccines administered to U.S. preschool children today contain thimerosal, including new formulations of Hepatitis B and influenza vaccines. With the exception of some influenza and tetanus-diphtheria vaccines given to children ages 7 and up, the last lot of childhood vaccines containing thimerosal expired in early 2003.
Even those that still contain thimerosal do so on the order of 1 part per million, or 0.0002%. This amount does not violate any laws or regulations regarding safe levels of mercury exposure, and are not given to infants who are generally known to be more sensitive to mercury.

The 1990’s autism “epidemic” mentioned has not been proven to exist.

Studies indicate that the increased rate of autism in the last decade may actually be an increase in autism recognition resulting from broader diagnostic criteria, increased media/public awareness, and the inclusion of autism on the list of disorders meriting special education needs by the U.S. Department of Education.

And what is this genetic condition or susceptibility of which Attkisson speaks? And where can I find information on it? She certainly didn’t provide any.

Lastly, Attkisson references a report by Dr. Mady Hornig in which the direct extrapolation of animal study results to humans again rears its ugly head. “The mice withdrew from their surroundings… and developed brain abnormalities affecting emotion and thinking, also like autistic children.” Symptoms of autism are difficult to assess in humans, making it hard to believe that we can possibly assess them in mice. How are we to know when a mouse is withdrawing emotionally? And what does it mean when a mouse develops “profound brain problems”?

This is a most unscientific report. Worse, it will have the effect of needlessly alarming parents, possibly encouraging them to avoid safe and necessary vaccinations for their kids. It is entirely irresponsible, given the lack of evidence, to frighten people into not having their children properly immunized for fear of their developing autism. The risk of the latter is far outweighed by the danger of not being properly immunized against preventable diseases. How did this slip through your fingers and on to the CBS Evening News?

-Aubrey Stimola is Research Assistant at the American Council on Science and Health-

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