Nov 20, 2002

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Picture perfect, a happy, healthy baby. Then at 15 months, just like every other baby, Russell Rollins got his measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination.

ROLLINS: He has a very physical reaction to those vaccines including a high-pitch scream and days of high-pitched crying and listlessness.

DORNIN: Ten years later, those problems continue. Russell Rollins is autistic. How do you describe what you go through as a parent of an autistic child?

ROLLINS: It's a living hell. It's a living hell for everyone involved. It's a living hell for my son who suffers terribly from this disorder.

DORNIN: And it's a struggle that most autistic kids go through in the classroom. We're at the ABC School for Autistic Children, classes are full. Are you seeing bigger numbers, more kids knocking at the door to get in places like this?

ROLLINS: Yes, both in our school and in our in-home services, even in comparison to last year. We probably have 15 more kids than we had the year previous.

DORNIN: And parents are asking questions. No one knows what causes the brain development disorder but Rick Rollins who has become an activist for autism thinks the vaccine is connected.

ROLLINS: Thirty-three percent of new families with children of autism believe that vaccines played a role in the development of their child's autism.

DORNIN: But a recent, well-respected Danish study found no link between vaccinations and autism. Epidemiologist and pediatrician Robert Byrd doesn't believe the measles vaccine is a problem but he says concern about what's in some vaccinations is justified. Byrd applauds the removal last year of a small amount of mercury used as a preservative in some vaccines.

DR. ROBERT BYRD, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: To have anything that's potentially harmful packaged with something that's supposed to be entirely good is a bad package. DORNIN: Byrd authored a recent study that ruled out better testing and population increases as possible causes for California's dramatic increase. He believes what's happening here is probably happening nationwide. California has the only system for registering autistic children.

There is no biological test for autism. Some researchers believe there could be connection between genetics and the environment, but Rollins says he knows vaccines are only one possibility. Do you believe there could be other factor as well?

BYRD: Absolutely. You know I don't think anyone in any area of research in autism believe there's one single cause. We worry day and night about his future and who's going to take care of him when we're gone.

Give me a kiss.

DORNIN: Rusty Dornin CNN, Sacramento, California.


ZAHN: And joining us now is Bernard Rimland, head of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego. He believes childhood vaccinations may be the culprit.

Good of you to join us. Welcome, sir.

Why do you think vaccinations may be part of this equation?

BERNARD RIMLAND, AUTISM RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Well, I've been studying this matter for some 35, 40 years.

Way back in the '60s, I began collecting information from parents about the possible causes of autism in their kids. Even back then, there were a number of parents who said their kid was quite normal until they got vaccinated. Nowadays, of course, the evidence is very, very convincing that the autism has extremely accelerated in its prevalence.

The California study is one of many which shows this huge increase. The evidence that vaccines are a major cause of the increase comes from a number of directions. One direction that's been largely ignored are the laboratory studies. There are at least seven laboratory studies, clinical studies, of blood, cerebral, spinal fluid, biopsies of autistic children which show huge differences between autistic children and normal children in terms of the presence of things like measles vaccine virus in their intestinal tract, for example, or their neurons. So, there's one line of evidence.

Another, of course, is that we have data from thousands of parents who testify, often with videotapes and photographs and eyewitness reports, that their kid was perfectly normal. And they can demonstrate it, as I say, very conclusively with tapes until after the vaccine. The kid retreated into autism. There's just converging evidence from many, many directions.

 ZAHN: But, Doctor, it's also true that not every child who gets vaccinations ends up with autism. And there are some scientists who believe that there is a preexisting genetic weakness that makes them almost predisposed to contracting autism. What do you say to those scientists?

RIMLAND: Well, I totally agree with that. As a matter of fact, my autism book, "Infantile Autism," which was published in 1964, established beyond any doubt that there is a strong genetic element in autism.

In the present instance, the genetic element seems, on the basis of a good deal of evidence, that the children have a tremendously difficult time detoxifying heavy metals, including mercury. There's the differences of 10,000 percent in the sensitivity of some individuals vs. others in their sensitivity to mercury. Many of the vaccines that these autistic kids have been given contain huge amounts, very, incredibly large amounts of extremely toxic mercury, which what was put in there as a preservative.

And it's the genetic predisposition, plus the mercury, plus a huge number of increased vaccines that kids are getting which causes the increase. When my son was born -- my autistic son was born in the '50s -- kids were getting three vaccines: DPT, one shot of DPT vaccines before the age of 2.

Now, if the kids get the recommended amounts, they are getting 22 vaccine doses before the age of 2. And, as the number of vaccines the kids are given before the age of 2 has increased, the population of autistic children has concomitantly increased.

ZAHN: What is your best recommendation to parents? I think of when I had all three of my kids inoculated. When the doctor hands you this horrible pamphlet with all the conceivable things that could happen to your child, most of them bad, and you have to sign on the dotted line that you understand all that, what are you supposed to do?

RIMLAND: Well, there are some really very closely agreed-upon recommendations that the experts make.

One is, make sure the kid does not get a vaccine that contains mercury. Mercury is used in a preservative called thimerosal. And it supposedly was taken off the market. Or at least the vaccines were manufactured starting in '99, I believe, without that mercury in them. But an awful lot of the vaccines still on doctors' shelves in warehouses and in pharmacies still contain the vaccines. So, make absolutely show that there's no mercury in the vaccines given to the kids.

Another extremely important rule is, never have a kid vaccinated when the child is sick or has any sign of immune system dysfunction, a cold or anything of that sort. And still another rule which I really think should be strongly enforced as a policy matter, do not start vaccinating kids as young as they are now vaccinating them. Some kids are given multiple vaccines before they leave the hospital. Some experts say don't vaccinate before the kid is 1-year-old. Others say before the kid is six months old. But delay it as long as possible.

ZAHN: Well, you've certainly given us a lot of information to think about and to debate. Dr. Bernard Rimland of the Autism Research Institute, thank you very much for your time tonight.

RIMLAND: You're most welcome. Thank you for the opportunity.

ZAHN: We also wanted to address this dilemma parents face when they have to decide whether vaccinations are work the risk, or the alleged risk. So we asked our own medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to give us a hand.

You are by training a neurosurgeon.


ZAHN: And you know what it's like for any parent that sits down with their pediatrician and tries to read through these pamphlets. It is scary. And you ask yourself as a parent: "Do I want my kid to get this dreadful affliction or do I inoculate him or her and live with the possible risk of having autism be contracted?"

GUPTA: Yes. Well, I think Bernard Rimland made some good points. There's no question.

The number of vaccines that a child gets today compared to 20, 30 years ago has almost tripled, if not quadrupled, in some cases, in some of those particular vaccines. And, as a result of that, a lot of those childhood diseases, a lot of those scourges of childhood have been all but eliminated as a result.

When you think about some of the diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, actually being able to get rid of those diseases, that benefit far outweighs any of the possible associations we've seen with...

ZAHN: But you heard the same interview I just did. The doctor said that they found these traces of the measles virus in the neurons.

GUPTA: And they were talking specifically about the polyps within the intestines. And they were saying that it was possibly a way that certain bacteria and viruses could get into the body.

There's a lot of research on this. This is perhaps one of the most researched things in childhood medicine. And a lot of that, you can find papers really on both sides of the aisle. Whether or not some of these vaccines actually led to autism as a result either because of this mercury derivative that we've been hearing so much about or otherwise, has never been proven.

ZAHN: Well, that doesn't make me feel good either that any of us who inoculated our kids pre-1999 shouldn't stop worrying about this stuff. So what is the best advice you can give us tonight? GUPTA: You bring up 1999. And he made a good point there.

In 1999, the CDC, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, a lot of organizations came together and said: "You know what? We're going to get rid of this mercury derivative in the vaccines. It used to be at a certain level. We're going to essentially get rid of it altogether. Why? Because we believe there's enough lack of public confidence now in these vaccines because of all of this that people won't do the right thing, which is get their kids vaccinate."

They never, on the other hand, admitted liability, admitted culpability, or confirmed any association between these vaccines and any of these other things, autism being the most commonly-discussed one now. Thimerosal, the name for the mercury derivative, doesn't exist in those vaccines today. So the best advice is really to continue getting children vaccinated. That association was never proven. And now, with this thimerosal, this mercury derivative being gone, it's even less likely.

ZAHN: Thanks for the house call, Sanjay. It helps