For Immediate Release
December 6, 2002
Contact: Blain Rethmeier/Nick Mutton
(202) 225-5074

Burton Reviews Federal Government Track Record On Vaccines And Autism
Washington, D.C. - Nationwide, as many as 1.5 million Americans are believed to have some form of autism spectrum disorder, and Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), Chairman of the Committee on Government Reform, wants to know what the federal government is doing about it.

The Committee on Government Reform will hold a hearing entitled, "Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: Reviewing the Federal Government's Track Record and Charting a Course for the Future," on December 10, 2002, in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building at 1:30 p.m.

In recent years, the number of American children suffering from autism has skyrocketed. A recent well-published study funded by the State of California determined the number of autism cases in the state has tripled in the last 10 years. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a rate of 10-17 percent per year.

Said Burton, "Fifteen years ago, one in every 10,000 children in America was autistic. Today, one in every 250 children is autistic. We have an epidemic on our hands. If this trend continues at a constant rate, the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade."

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. A growing number of parents and scientists believe that there may be a relationship between autism and childhood vaccines. One leading suspect is thimerosal, a preservative which was used for decades to kill bacteria in vaccines and contains ethyl mercury. It has long been known that over-exposure to mercury in children can cause serious neurological problems in developing children.

On November 21, 2002, Chairman Burton wrote to President Bush urging him to host a White House conference on autism and to begin a national effort to determine why autism has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.

The text of the letter follows and for more information on this autism investigation, please visit the House Government Reform's website at www.reform.house.gov.


November 21, 2002

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to urge you to host a White House conference on autism to galvanize a national effort to determine why autism has reached epidemic proportions in this country.

Fifteen years ago, one in 10,000 children in the United States was autistic. Today, estimates place that number at one in 250. A recent study funded by the State of California determined that the number of autistic children in California has tripled, and that the increase could not be attributed to better diagnoses or more accurate testing.

This explosive growth in autism has had devastating consequences for families and communities all across the country. Families of autistic children face great emotional and financial hardships as they seek to care for their children. Local school districts have been overwhelmed financially and logistically as they attempt to educate these children with so many special needs. As a nation, we must develop solutions to help families and communities cope with these challenges.

We must also try to determine what is causing this outbreak and how it can be stopped. One possible explanation is the mercury preservative that was used for years in pediatric vaccines. It is troubling that at the same time that autism was skyrocketing, additional vaccines were being added to the routine vaccination schedule, increasing the cumulative amount of mercury to which young children were exposed. The Institute of Medicine called this theory unproven, but "biologically plausible," and called for much more research. Other factors may also be behind this increase, and it is entirely possible that a combination of factors in the environment may be at work.

At a White House conference, you could bring together the best minds from across the country to chart a course of scientific research to uncover the underlying causes of this epidemic. Right now such research is not being aggressively pursued. You could also bring together parents of autistic children and leaders in the fields of education and social services to begin to address the difficult challenges they face.

Mr. President, you are in a unique position to provide the leadership that is necessary to organize a national effort to resolve these problems. Members of the House and Senate would, without a doubt, work with you to mobilize whatever resources are necessary to mount such an effort. I urge you to host a White House conference on autism.

Thank you very much for your leadership, and for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,


Dan Burton
Member of Congress
Witnesses:

Panel One
David Baskin, M.D., Professor of Neurological Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
Mark Geier, M.D., Ph.D., Genetic Consultants of Maryland, Bethesda, MD
Walter Spitzer, M.D. , M.P.H., F.R.C.P.C., Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Panel Two
Karen Midthun, M.D., Director, Office of Vaccines Research and Review, Food and Drug Administration, Rockville, Maryland
Stephen Foote, Ph.D., Director, Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science, National Institutes of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD
Christopher Portier, Ph.D., Director, Environmental Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD

Staff Contacts:

Beth Clay
Government Reform Committee
Telephone: 226-5867
Fax: 225-5074
E-Mail: beth.clay@mail.house.gov

Pablo Carrillo
Government Reform Committee
Telephone: 225-5074