A Bloomberg News book review of David Kirby's "Evidence of Harm" has won an
Excellence in Journalism award from the New Jersey Chapter of the Society
of Professional Journalists. The review was written by award-winning
Bloomberg Editor Stacie Babula, who can be reached at email@example.com
Below is a copy of the book review. A complete list of all "Excellence in
Journalism" award winners can be found at http://www.njspj.org/contest.html
Is Dramatic Jump in Autism Linked to Mercury in Vaccines?
2005-05-02 00:11 (New York)
(Book review. Stacie Babula is an editor with Bloomberg
News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
By Stacie Babula
May 2 (Bloomberg) -- David Kirby is not the parent of an
autistic child. He's a single guy, a New York freelance
journalist always looking for a good story to tell.
He found one in 2002, when he began researching a possible
link between mercury used in a vaccine preservative and autism, a
disorder that affects the development of social and communication
The result is his new book ``Evidence of Harm, Mercury in
Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy'' (St.
Martin's Press, 460 pages, $26.95).
Kirby, a New York Times contributor for the past eight
years, interviewed dozens of parents to find out how their
children had developed autism. He pored over medical journals,
clinical studies and government documents. The families he met
and the things he learned shook him. ``You cannot help but feel
compassion,'' Kirby, 44, said during a recent interview at a cafe
on the Upper West Side.
Kirby rattles off statistics that would make anyone's mouth
drop, even if you don't have autistic children (I do) or know
anyone with the disorder. Reported autism cases among American
children have risen to one in 166 today, from one in 10,000 in
1987, Kirby says. While some attribute that jump to the fact that
milder forms of autism are now being diagnosed, others say there
has to be another, environmental reason, for what they call an
``A little voice told me, `This is the book you've been
waiting to write,''' Kirby said.
He doesn't profess to know whether mercury causes autism.
What he does insist is that nobody can say for certain that the
two are not linked.
Scientists and government officials say there is no
``evidence of harm'' caused by thimerosal, the vaccine
preservative made with mercury. But no evidence of harm, Kirby
says, is not the same as proof of safety.
As Kirby tells it, the first case of autism was recorded in
the early 1940s, a few years after thimerosal was introduced in
vaccines. Until 1999, infant vaccines to fight diptheria,
tetanus, whooping cough, haemophilus influenza type b and
hepatitis B contained thimerosal.
Kirby challenges the pharmaceutical companies who made the
vaccines with mercury, a toxic heavy metal; the doctors who gave
the vaccines and insisted they were safe; the health officials
who increased the number of vaccinations required for entry into
public schools; and the scientists who said they could not find a
link between autism and mercury.
If there's no ``evidence of harm,'' Kirby asks, then why did
government officials begin removing thimerosal from the vaccines
in 1999? And why in 2002, did politicians throw a provision into
the Homeland Security Act to shield vaccine makers from
Kirby delivers a well-written story that weaves in startling
facts and takes you on a roller-coaster ride into the homes of
families devastated by autism. It tells tales of government
bureaucracy and political cronyism that, if true, are appalling.
We learn about nine families struggling to find the answers
and help their children. Like Lyn Redwood, an Atlanta nurse
practitioner who was stunned to discover that her autistic son
received vaccines with mercury levels that were 125 times over
the Environmental Protection Act limit.
This isn't just a book for the parents of autistic kids.
It's really four stories in one, Kirby says: a tale of personal
human tragedy, a political whodunit, a medical mystery and a
legal courtroom drama.
It took me several weeks to read ``Evidence of Harm.'' Maybe
it was the detail-filled narrative from the parents' point of
view that made me put the book down every so often and walk away.
I shared their pain, their anger, their feeling of helplessness.
Autism symptoms develop before a child is 3 years old,
though signs may be present as early as a year. Symptoms can
range from mild to severe and may include delay or loss of
speech, as well as obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
These parents found allies in politicians such as U.S.
Representative Dan Burton, who believes his two grandchildren
suffered from thimerosal exposure in vaccines.
Kirby says his book reveals data showing a high correlation
between autism and thimerosal. The figures were obtained from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through a Freedom of
Information Act request by parents and researchers.
My husband, an artist, has long believed that mercury
contributed to developmental delays in both our children. As a
journalist, I was more skeptical. After reading Kirby's book, I'm
not so sure there isn't a link.
Today, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect
preschool children against 12 infectious diseases contain
thimerosal, according to the CDC. If autism rates soon begin to
drop, Kirby says, it will be proof that the preservative was
linked to the disorder.
To Vaccinate or Not
To be sure, some children with autism were never exposed to
thimerosal, and most who got vaccines did not become autistic.
But mercury's effects can vary considerably among individuals,
depending upon things such as genetics and metabolic rates.
Kirby says that ``Evidence of Harm'' isn't an anti-vaccine
book and that if he had children, he would vaccinate them. Still,
more and more parents -- my husband and I included -- hesitate to
vaccinate until the cause of autism is found.
``We need to raise these questions, so we can clear up all
the confusion,'' Kirby says. ``If we can't prove a link between
autism and mercury, fine. Then let's find out what does, so we
can all move on.''
To contact the writer responsible for this story:
Stacie Babula at firstname.lastname@example.org