Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, author David Kirby

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 On Wall Street: A time bomb ticks under Big Pharma

 By Stephen Schurr
 March 25 2005

It isnt a stretch to say Big Pharmas fortunes are tethered in part to
the Amazon.com sales rank of Evidence of Harm

 It is hard to find a sector that suffered more in 2004 than Big Pharma.

 Runaway healthcare costs became an issue in the US election. Seniors
surpassed wayward teens as Americas biggest drug lawbreakers, crossing
over to Canada to get cheaper supplies. In September, Merck withdrew its
arthritis drug Vioxx, which spawned lawsuits. Lurking beneath the headlines
was Wall Streets worry that Big Pharmas pipeline of new drugs looked dry.
The S&P 500 Pharmaceutical index fell 9.5 per cent for the year.

 Early this year, some value investors have swooped, believing
pharmaceutical stocks were poised to recover. While they may be right, its
possible that some issues may make 2004 look like the calm before the storm.

 One controversy looks likely to fester. Big Pharma would love to put it to
rest, but the April publication of a well-researched book is likely to push
it to the fore.

 The debate centers on whether the use of the toxin mercury as a
preservative in vaccines for infants has played a role in the surge in
autism cases. No answer proving or disproving a link has emerged, but in
Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, author David
Kirby sympathizes with the drug industrys opponents: the parents of
children with autism who cannot otherwise account for it.

 Wall Street, the broader American public and the global community is
largely unaware of the controversy. It isnt a stretch to say Big Pharmas
fortunes are tethered in part to the Amazon.com sales rank of Evidence of
Harm. Over the past two decades, cases of autism have risen sharply in the
US. In 1987, roughly one in 10,000 American children were diagnosed with
autism or a related disorder. Today the rate is 1 in 166. The epidemic has
coincided with a surge in new vaccinations for infants between 1988 and
1991. Many of these vaccines contained a preservative called thimerosal,
which is 49.6 per cent mercury based on weight. 

 The book plays like a detective story. It begins with a crime of sorts.
The protagonists took their children for thimerosal-based vaccination
shots, then watched in horror as their kids became violently ill soon
before tumbling into the hell of autism. The parents search for clues and
their path keeps leading them to mercury.

 In 1982, the US Food and Drug Administration banned thimerosal and other
mercury-based preservatives for use in products such as skin creams and
nasal sprays, but never did anything about thimerosal that gets injected
into newborn babies. The ex-Soviet Union banned thimerosal-based vaccines
two decades ago.

 In the 1940s, a condition known as Pink Disease afflicted thousands of
children with symptoms similar to autism. It arose in those with
sensitivity to mercury being used as an antiseptic in teething powders.
Once mercury was removed from the powders, Pink Disease disappeared.

 The parents are troubled by the US health agencies who, in their opinion,
seemed more interested in protecting the US vaccination program and
downplaying the evidence of a likely link than acknowledging the crisis.
The parents are aghast when an unknown person slipped an eleventh-hour
rider in the anti-terrorism Homeland Security Act aimed at inoculating Eli
Lilly, which invented thimerosal in the 1920s, and vaccine makers such as
Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, from hundreds of mercury-related lawsuits. While
US health officials in 1999 called for a voluntary removal of vaccines
containing thimerosal, they remain in use in the US and around the globe.
Attorneys have found loopholes that have allowed them to press ahead with
lawsuits alleging fraud and malfeasance by the industry for using toxic
mercury in infant vaccines.

 If any one of these suits is successful, the possible damages beggar
comprehension. As many as 1.5m Americans have been diagnosed with some form
of autism, and a conservative estimate puts the cost for lifetime
treatment, education and care at $2m per person. Whether the industry or
the government ends up footing the bill if a link is found, the potential
liability makes asbestos litigation look like belonging to a small claims