Link between Mercury-based Vaccines and Autism Generates Concern, Spawns Pediatrics Science Article
U.S.Newswire, 3/5/2003 09:08
To: National Desk

Contact: Sallie Bernard, 970-544-3466

Lyn Redwood, 404 932-1786


BETHESDA, Md., March 5 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The just-released March 2003 issue of the science journal, Pediatrics, features commentary from Drs. Karen Nelson and Margaret Bauman on the possible role of thimerosal as a cause of autism. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative used in many vaccines. While Bauman and Nelson consider the autism-thimerosal link ''improbable'', many scientists and parent advocacy groups think otherwise and blame its use for the devastating rise in autism which now affects up to 1 in 150 children.

Thousands of parents have reported biological and neurodevelopmental changes in their children directly following administration of mercury-containing vaccines. Symptoms, including sudden onset of shyness, GI distress, loss of motor skill function, allergies, the inability to speak, tremors and autonomic disturbances, mimic those associated with mercury poisoning. In 1999, the FDA issued a statement indicating some children may have been exposed to unsafe levels of mercury via thimerosal-containing vaccines. Public attention to the thimerosal issue increased after several congressional hearings and after lawmakers snuck a provision into the Homeland Security Bill that would protect drug companies from thimerosal-based lawsuits.

''The Nelson-Bauman commentary has a number of inaccuracies that call into question the legitimacy of the paper's conclusions,'' said Sallie Bernard, Executive Director of the advocacy group Safe Minds and the lead author of two autism-mercury papers cited by the Pediatrics article. ''For example, they claim that survivors of acrodynia, a form of mercury poisoning, did not have behavioral disorders suggestive of autism but case descriptions clearly show that they did, such as loss of speech, odd behaviors, and social withdrawal. Likewise, the authors remark that mercury studies from the Faroe Islands found no cases of autism, but these studies by design excluded any children with neurological disease.''

Lyn Redwood, RN, President of Safe Minds and a co-author of the two autism-mercury papers, pointed out that the Pediatrics authors base their argument of thimerosal safety on a purportedly ''weak association'' between neurodevelopmental disorders and exposure to thimerosal containing vaccines found by the Centers for Disease Control in an unpublished study. ''The supposedly weak association is a mischaracterization. Safe Minds obtained an earlier version of the CDC study that in fact found a 2 1/2 times increase in the risk of developing autism after exposure to increased thimerosal in vaccines. In a court of law, a relative risk of 2.0 or greater is sufficient to substantiate that a given exposure caused disease.''

Many parents are angry that the Nelson-Bauman article compares symptoms of mercury poisoning to those found in classic but often inadequate descriptions of autistic children. Lori McIlwain, co-founder of parent advocacy group MOMA, says that once the word ''autism'' comes up, the medical community puts their blinders on. ''After receiving a mercury-containing vaccine, my child had tremors and unusual sweating patterns, which doctors don't associate with autism, yet they diagnosed him with autism based on the more well-known symptoms. He was also exposed to thimerosal during pregnancy via my RhoGAM(tm) injection, and he has almost every symptom listed on the FDA's web site for prenatal mercury exposure.''

A thorough review of the Pediatrics article is currently underway by Safe Minds. One area of investigation is the failure of the authors to acknowledge the high mercury levels found in children with autism. During the Institute of Medicine review of thimerosal in 2001, Dr. Jeffrey Bradstreet presented a study of 191 children with autism with documented mercury levels 500 percent greater than those of children without autism.

For more information about the thimerosal-autism connection, visit For information on thimerosal and neurodevelopmental delays in general, visit the Institute of Medicine Web site,