Vaccine preservative's effects may have been known
For decades, half of all childhood vaccines contained a chemical preservative called Thimerosal.
It is made from mercury, one of the most poisonous substances on Earth.
News 8 has spent the past three months investigating claims that government regulators and some pharmaceutical companies knew of the dangers, but never told the public.
From the outset, it must be stressed that this report is not anti-vaccination. Every person interviewed for this story believes in the importance of having children immunized.
Rather, the focus is on the possible link between Thimerosal and neurological disorders.
Before the 1990s, 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. But in the past decade, as the government has increased the number of mandatory vaccines, some recent studies suggest the rate of autism has risen to 1 in about 250 children.
Some say the cause may be mercury poisoning.
From the day that little Jac Counter was born in 1996, his proud parents began documenting his progress with a video camera.
There was the first tooth, the first bowl of spaghetti, and the first steps.
|Vaccines that contained Thimerosal|
But among all the precious images of their baby boy, there was another "first" that the Counters unknowingly recorded on video. And that, they say, was the beginning of Jac's descent into "mercury-induced autism."
On one of the tapes, at 22 months, Jac verbalized playfully with his father.
Jac's parents say by the age of 4, however, he had lost all his verbal skills. Communication became a series of screams and tantrums. And there was other odd, compulsive behavior, like constant repetitive movements and licking many objects.
It was a urine test for 15 toxic metals that provided Joe and Theresa Counter with the first indication of what was wrong with their son.
The test showed that Jac's levels for arsenic, cadmium and nickel were normal or within an acceptable range. But as far as the results for mercury were concerned, the line goes off the chart.
Experts report that patients with mercury poisoning or autism share many of the same symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive behavior and loss of speech.
Jac's only possible encounter with sizable amounts of mercury, say the Counters, is through his vaccines.
"It's not that any one shot (did it)," father Joe Counter said. "The Thimerosal or the mercury in one of my son's vaccinations - well, he didn't get one shot, he got 30 shots or whatever, or however many he got. And it was the cumulative affect that, at some point, his body said, 'Stop it, I can't take this any more.' "
The Counters, who live in Plano, became the first family in the nation to file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies who put Thirmerosal in their vaccines.
Since last year, another 50 families with autistic children in 8 states have filed suit as well.
Medical files obtained by News 8 for at least five of the children show excessively high levels of mercury, just like Jac Counter.
So how much mercury are we talking about?
Approximately 12 out of the 18 vaccine doses the average American child receives before the age of two contain Thimerosal. Cumulatively, that's more than 200 micrograms of mercury, which would fit on the head of a pin.
According to the EPA, dropping that pin-head of mercury into 23 gallons of water would make it unsafe for human consumption.
"Think about the idea of injecting your own child with levels of mercury that are thirty to forty times what's considered safe for an adult," Dallas attorney Andy Waters said. "And, I think if any human being thinks about that very long, they recognize that this is something that never should have happened."
Waters represents the Counters, as well as other families in the lawsuits. News 8 took some of his firm's research on Thimerosal to several top experts for their opinions.
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Dr. Boyd Haley is the Chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky. He's one of the nation's leading experts on mercury poisoning and has studied Thimerosal in vaccines.
Thimerosal "is one of the most toxic compounds I know of," Haley said. "I can't think of anything that I know of is more lethal."
Dr. Jane Siegel is a professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern in Dallas. For the past five years, Siegel has sat on the government vaccine committee that decides which vaccines are mandatory for children.
"I believe there is no data thus far that's been looked at to prove that there's a connection - that there's a causitive relationship," Siegel said.
But just two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did conduct a study, which showed that three-month-old babies exposed to just 63 micrograms of mercury - less than half of the aforementioned pin top - were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop autism.
The study is stamped "Confidential" and "Do Not Copy or Release." Siegel says it was never made public because it was just a draft.
"Until they're final, and are ready for publication, they're always considered a draft, not to be widely distributed," Siegel said. "This preliminary information could be distributed, and that could do harm."
So why was it marked 'Confidential, Do Not Release', rather than a simple 'Draft'?
"I think we're mincing words," Siegel said.
Subsequently, the CDC did release a report to the public, but the findings were much different. The new study was amended with different data which lowered the autism rate.
Dr. Sidney Baker has reviewed both reports. Baker has authored six medical books, and written scores of articles on childhood behavior and autism.
Baker is critical of the CDC study.
"I can't imagine that smart people could possibly have re-arranged the data the way they were done, and represented the data the way they were done, without doing it on purpose and with the express purpose, as you say, of a coverup," Baker said.
Baker treats hundreds of autistic patients each year from around the country. He suspects that about half of the children he sees have been affected by Thimerosal from their vaccines.
Baker said the CDC's refusal to release raw data from the study for outside experts to evaluate - a standard protocol in medical research - is helping to fuel the controversy.
To parents like the Counters, that is unforgiveable.
"It doesn't matter that 95% or 98%, or whatever the percentage of the kids - somehow their system is able to take in a particular metal - in this case, mercury - and flush it out," Counter said. "My kid couldn't, and it wreaked havoc on his system.
"It fried his wires."
Under pressure from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, pharmaceutical companies agreed to stop manufacturing vaccines containing Thimerosal in March 2001. But while production may have ceased, vaccine vials already containing Thimerosal were not recalled.
A very simple solution for parents worried about upcoming shots for children is to ask your doctor ahead of time for Thimerosal-free vaccines.
Tuesday night, the News 8 investigation continues with what the government, and at least one pharmaceutical company, knew 30 years ago about Thimerosal's dangers - and didn't tell the public.