Thimerosal, Children's Vaccines and Autism

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

Michael Fumento bases his defense of thimerosal on the assurances by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), but these are the same government agencies that green-lighted thimerosal for use in children’s vaccines and that have ignored biological, toxicological and epidemiological studies linking thimerosal to a wide range of neurological disorders ("Immune to Reason," Taste page, Weekend Journal, June 24).

In 2001, they joined the pharmaceutical industry to gin up four European studies to exonerate thimerosal. Those studies were largely financed by vaccine makers, written principally by vaccine industry consultants and employees and published in compromised journals (The Journal of Pediatrics, cited by Mr. Fumento, and its parent, the American Academy of Pediatrics, receive substantial funding from thimerosal producers) that violated peer-reviewed ethics and their own bias rules by not revealing the myriad conflicts of these authors.

The European studies are all flawed. They targeted children exposed to a tiny fraction of the thimerosal concentrations used in America. Most glaringly, prior to banning thimerosal, Denmark registered only autistics who were hospitalized – one fifth of the afflicted populations.

After outlawing thimerosal in 1995, Denmark added out-patient autistics to its registries. The resulting spike in raw numbers made it appear autism rates actually increased after withdrawal of thimerosal.

By using those and similarly deceptive data from Sweden and the U.K., the study’s authors enabled IOM to make the case that thimerosal was not linked to autism. The author of the only U.S. study, Thomas Verstraeten, has disavowed IOM’s claim that his study exonerates thimerosal as the culprit in the autism epidemic.

Mr. Fumento’s assurance that the CDC’s studies were peer reviewed by IOM is not convincing since the leading members of IOM’s peer review panel had financial bonds to the vaccine industry.

Mr. Fumento argues that there is no conspiracy by CDC to hide the facts from the public. But CDC’s efforts to erase that impression have been hampered by the release of transcripts of secret meetings that are susceptible to no other interpretation, by its decision to block federal funding for any new research on the thimerosal/autism link and by CDC’s defiance of federal laws and congressional orders requiring it to allow independent scientists to review federal vaccine safety data.

Mr. Fumento’s suggestion that ethyl mercury is benign is pharmaceutical industry propaganda that was discredited soon after Eli Lilly first made that claim in the 1930s. Recent studies indicate that ethyl mercury may be more toxic to brain tissue than methyl mercury because of its persistence in the brain. My original estimate that thimerosal vaccines exposed children to mercury concentrations hundreds of times safe levels was taken from published accounts and was pretty accurate.

Dr. Boyd Haley is hardly a "vaccine conspiracist," as Mr. Fumento charges. He is a biochemist, professor and chair of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky. He has 123 publications in peer-reviewed journals on biological effects of various compounds on the brain and other organs. He is the inventor of the mercury probe technology now used by the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Frank DeStefano, who Mr. Fumento praises, is an epidemiologist who analyzes numbers, not a practitioner of the biological sciences. Dr. DeStefano has never published a study on mercury’s toxicity in children’s brains or organs. Finally, the work of the expert witness team of Mark and David Geier was published in refereed journals and has never been formally challenged or subject to any formal corrections.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
White Plains, N.Y.