[back] Ray Gallup
By Colleen O'Dea
PARSIPPANY - Eric Gallup was a typical toddler. He played and laughed and
was learning to talk. Like nearly all other toddlers, he was vaccinated
against measles, mumps and rubella at age 15 months. And he hasn't been the
same since, say his parents.
"I looked at the videos after he was tested (for measles antibodies) in 1995
and I could see some things changed in him," said Ray Gallup, father of the
14-year-old autistic boy. "His speech was coming on. Then it just
Today, Eric can't speak. He uses a book with pictures and a special machine
to communicate. He attends the Allegro School in Cedar Knolls, a special
school for the disabled. He will probably be able to work but may never live
Ray and his wife Helen are two of the hundreds of parents across the country
who believe an immune system reaction to vaccines caused autism in their
children. And they're trying to fund research to help Eric and other
children through a nonprofit foundation called the Autism Autoimmunity
Project, based in Parsippany.
Still in its first year, the project is trying to raise $50,000 by Oct. 1.
It will hold its first fundraiser, an auction of items donated by sports
figures, celebrities and local merchants, next month.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction,
communication, behavior and other brain functions. About 75 percent of the
autistic also have mental retardation, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. Autism has been linked to such diseases as
encephalitis, congenital rubella and epilepsy. Some believe genetics play a
role in it, but no one knows what causes most cases and there is no cure.
The CDC says approximately 400,000 people across the country - males more
often than females - are autistic.
According to the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation
Services' 20th Annual Report to Congress, the number of autistic students
has risen more than five-fold from 5,415 in 1991-92, the first year autism
was counted as a handicapping condition, to 34,101 in 1996-97. The report
attributes much of the increase to the change in classifying autism, but Dr.
F. Edward Yazbak, a retired pediatrician in Falmouth, Mass., who has two
autistic grandchildren, thinks more children are developing autism at least
in part because of reactions to vaccines.
Like the Gallups, Yazbak believes the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine
or other vaccines may play a role in bringing on autism and is frustrated
that there have been no major studies investigating a link.
"There is a relationship that has to be investigated," said Yazbak, also a
member of the Autism Autoimmunity Project. "This is a true tragedy. It's a
true epidemic. We're saying, 'Please, please, people, look at it.'"
A couple of studies by British doctors have come to contradictory
conclusions about a link between autism and vaccines. A 1998 study of a
dozen children found a correlation - but not necessarily a causal
relationship - between the MMR vaccine and autism. The other, published last
June, looked at some 500 and found no link. Each study has been criticized
by one of the sides in the debate.
Many who believe there is a link between vaccination and such disorders as
autism argued for impartial, long-term studies on the effects of vaccines
and their possible relationship to such disorders as autism at an Aug. 3
hearing in Washington, D.C., by the House Committee on Government Reform,
chaired by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. Burton also has a grandchild whom he
believes became autistic because of a vaccination.
Hardly anyone disputes that vaccines have almost eliminated many formerly
common diseases. State health officials say prior to wide-spread
immunization infectious diseases - such as rubella, measles and polio -
killed or disabled thousands of children every year.
People like Yazbak fully support vaccinations but believe that bombarding an
infant or toddler's immune system with so many vaccines at once can be
harmful. He suggests spreading the vaccines out over a longer period of
"Where are the safety studies on the short or long term effects of the
interaction of numerous multiple vaccinations on the developing brain and
immune system of our children?" asked Rick Rollens, of Granite Bay, Calif.,
whose 8-year-old son Russell began to show autistic tendencies at 7 months
old, after receiving his third DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) and
first HIB (Haemophilus influenzae B) vaccinations.
"Many safety studies of individual vaccines only include a few days
follow-up period for reactions but the CDC tells parents and the media that
the onset of autism after vaccination could only be an 'unrelated chance
occurrence.' Show me the science," Rollens said.
Doctors at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found
measles' antibodies nearly 10 times higher than normal in Eric and
discovered similarly high levels in 16 other children, Gallup said.
In an unpublished abstract, the doctors - including Dr. James Oleske, a
renowned pediatric AIDS specialist - concluded "MMR therefore may play a
role in the pathogenesis of autism."
Dr. Michael Gerber, a professor of pediatrics at the University of
Connecticut School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of
Pediatrics' Committee on Infectious Diseases that evaluates new vaccines,
said he is not aware of the UMDNJ findings and can't explain them. But he
said no other study of which he is aware has been able to document a
"Just because a child gets an MMR at 1 year of age and at 14 or 15 months is
diagnosed autistic does not mean there's a causal relationship," Gerber
said. "As for these theories, there is either no evidence to support them or
people have been unable to corroborate the evidence presented."
In a paper on autism and vaccines, the CDC also states there is "no
convincing evidence that any vaccine can cause autism or any kind of
behavioral disorder." It cites three studies, none by doctors in the United
States, that found no link.
Between January 1990 and February 1998, only 15 cases of autism after
vaccination were reported to the national Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting
System, according to the CDC. It concluded those cases "are likely to
represent unrelated chance occurrences that happened around the time of
The CDC is conducting a study in the Atlanta area to further evaluate any
link between autism and the MMR. That is expected to be completed some time
But none of this information has quieted parents' fears.
The National Vaccine Information Center, Autism Research Institute and Cure
Autism Now all continue to call for independent, non-governmental studies.
"Parents are reporting to our organization in record numbers that their
children are becoming autistic after vaccination," said Barbara Loe Fisher,
co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center.
New Jersey law requires all children to be vaccinated against 10 diseases
before they can enter school. They need to receive at least 16 shots or
vaccination doses by age 2 and get some boosters later.
Gerber maintained that today's vaccines are very safe.
"Nothing we do in medicine is 100 percent safe, but the risk involved in
getting a vaccine today is lower than it's ever been and it continues to be
much less than getting the disease," he said.
But to activists like Rollens, Gallup and Yazbak, such assurances are not
"We want the science," said Gallup, an accountant who is putting countless
hours into the Autism Autoimmunity Project. "We're hoping our small
organization with other people in other organizations across the country can
get something started on this."
In May, New Jersey set aside $1.5 million to fund the Governor's Council for
Medical Research and Treatment of Infantile Autism at UMDNJ. California
appropriated $5 million for autism research to a private institute.
"Little biomedical research has been done on autism," said Gov. Christie
Whitman in enacting the new project. "(This) will help get that critical
research under way."
Gallup hopes his group can raise at least $50,000 toward research and hopes
its advocacy for testing will help raise funds and public awareness.
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