There Is No Thimerosal-Autism Conspiracy

January 01, 2005  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Wall Street Journal  ·  Disease

In reply to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s July 8 Letter to the Editor "Thimerosal, Children’s Vaccines and Autism":

What unfortunate timing for Mr. Kennedy! His letter appeared at the same time the vaccine conspiracy group Safe Minds – his own allies – posted the full transcript of the "secret" Simpsonwood Conference that he used in his article to allege the existence of a massive conspiracy to cover up the connection between thimerosal-preserved vaccines and autism. Far from having "no other interpretation" than what he gave, it shows he engaged in voracious "quote-mining" from a 286-page text, grotesquely misrepresenting the context of his tidbits.

It’s therefore difficult to simply trust him that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the European Medicines Agency (whew!) are all part of a massive conspiracy on autism and are covering their tracks.

Mr. Kennedy says IOM "joined the pharmaceutical industry to gin up four European studies to exonerate thimerosal" because some IOM panelists had "financial bonds" to the vaccine industry. "Those studies were largely financed by vaccine makers, written principally by vaccine industry consultants and employees and published in compromised journals," he says. Certainly vaccine makers have provided much funding for thimerosal studies, thereby fulfilling their regulatory responsibility to do so. But are the researchers who repeatedly find no thimerosal-autism connection risking their professional reputations and livelihoods by fudging data, knowing that countless journal editors, journal reviewers, government reviewers, and outside reviewers can view those same data?

Yes, says Mr. Kennedy. He seems to believe Big Pharma owns everybody; Americans from government and private groups, Swedes, Danes, Brits – all are on the take and all have slanted their data in various ingenious ways.

In claiming "the European studies are all flawed," Mr. Kennedy says, "They targeted children exposed to a tiny fraction of the thimerosal concentrations used in America." Yet even his fellow anti-vaccinationists claim U.K. and U.S. autism rates have risen almost equally since 1954 and it’s accepted that both countries now report the same rates. If European vaccine exposure is comparable in allegedly causing autism, it’s contradictory to insist exposed children received so little as to make epidemiological studies using them inherently "flawed."

Mr. Kennedy also keeps misrepresenting the toxicological data no matter how often he’s caught – even when it forces his editors to run embarrassing corrections. Thus his pre-corrected article stated ethyl mercury exposure was 187 times higher than the EPA limit, and he told Joe Scarborough it was 400 times. It can’t be both and is actually neither. The EPA has no limit for ethyl mercury. Mr. Kennedy cannot escape these prevarications by claiming that ethyl mercury is as bad as or worse than methyl mercury, which in any case has no support.

The latest effort to compare the two appeared in April in Environmental Health Perspectives, conducted by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and concurred with numerous previous studies in finding that "mercury is cleared from the body faster after the administration of ethyl mercury than after the administration of methyl mercury." It concluded, "Methyl mercury is not a suitable reference for risk assessment from exposure to thimerosal-derived mercury."

Mr. Kennedy says, "Dr. Boyd Haley is hardly a ’vaccine conspiracist,’ as Mr. Fumento charges." Actually, his specialty is mercury in dental fillings and he simply widened his "expertise" to thimerosal. Dr. Haley is chairman of the Advisory Committee for Toxic Teeth and claims mercury is the cause of Alzheimer’s. Right.

Regarding anti-vaccinationist darlings Mark and David Geier, recall that the American Academy of Pediatrics condemned them for "numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements." According to the New York Times, David Geier has testified in more than 90 vaccine cases, with one judge lambasting him as "a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise and experience." Other judges have labeled his testimony "not reliable," "intellectually dishonest" and "wholly unqualified."

Conspiracies exist, but it’s impossible to sustain one so large and for so long without somebody inside blowing the whistle. Mr. Kennedy apparently thinks nobody but he and his handpicked non-expert experts can be trusted, even though he violates that trust at every turn. Meanwhile, the children who have sickened and died because terrified parents refused to vaccinate their kids – they are all too real.