The Age of Autism: Christian's mom speaks
By Dan Olmsted
Apr. 12, 2006

Washington, Apr. 12 (UPI) A small earthquake rumbled through the
autism world shortly after 7:30 a.m. on April 11, and the aftershocks
are going to be felt for a long time.
      That's when Katie Wright, daughter of NBC Universal Chairman
Bob Wright, said she is concerned her young son Christian's autism
might be related to vaccines he received, that he is getting better
through treatments that include biomedical interventions, and that
it's time for parents to follow their own "common sense" when they
get their kids vaccinated.
      Big deal? Yes, big deal.
      It's hard to overstate the buzz circulating through the autism
community over the past few months as it became known that Katie
Wright was among those with concerns about vaccines playing a role in
her child's autism -- and that she was trying to help him recover
      "I think it's a huge story," one autism activist e-mailed me in
February. "This child triggered a weeklong series on NBC and the most
well-funded autism organization on the planet (Autism Speaks)," not
to mention the high-profile heft of the Wrights in lobbying for more
money, more research and more awareness of a disorder that afflicts 1
in every 166 American kids.
      Thousands of parents with concerns just like Katie Wright's
have been all but ostracized, as have the small but growing minority
of doctors trying to help them. I know two MDs who lost faculty
appointments shortly after I wrote about them, and I hear story after
story about pediatricians rolling their eyes when they hear vaccine-
related health concerns of any kind from parents. Many ban families
who balk from their practices.
      Sitting right next to Katie Wright on "Imus in the Morning" on
MSNBC was her father, who also is vice chairman and executive officer
of GE, one of the world's biggest corporations. His comments were
understandably more general -- nobody knows what causes autism, he
said; vaccines are in the mix of possibilities that need urgent
research; as are other environmental issues, as are genetic factors.
      But does anybody think he would have been there if he
vehemently objected to his daughter expressing her concerns? (For
that matter, does anybody think Katie Wright would have been there?
After all, he runs the joint.)
      After Christian's diagnosis, Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne,
founded Autism Speaks, an advocacy group. Some longtime autism
activists consider it a bit namby-pamby, but after Tuesday that
impression may be due for an update.
      Regardless, what Katie Wright had to say extends a thoroughly
bad spell for the nation's health bureaucrats and medical trade
associations in their efforts to stamp out discussion of a possible
vaccine link to autism.
      Major newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and
the Los Angeles Times, which has been the best by far on this topic,
published articles on such groups' relentless opposition to banning
thimerosal -- the mercury-based preservative some believe triggered a
huge rise in autism diagnoses in the 1990s -- from childhood
      Last week 22 health organizations sent a letter to every member
of the U.S. Congress putting themselves on record that such bans are
a danger to public health -- yes, banning mercury from childhood
vaccines is dangerous, keeping it in is not. Several states have
banned it anyway, including heavyweights Illinois, California and New
      Meanwhile, Katie Wright said, the American Academy of
Pediatrics has not endorsed a pending bill in Congress called
Combating Autism -- backed by Autism Speaks and numerous other
organizations -- which includes funding for research into possible
causes of the epidemic, not excluding vaccines. Some apparently take
that as a threat to the third rail of public-health policy: the U.S.
childhood immunization schedule.
      Katie Wright zinged 'em on that one -- she called the AAP's
stance "shameful and disgraceful." And she said that whatever caused
Christian's autism, she wishes she hadn't let her doctor give him six
vaccines on one day at age 2 months. Parents need to use "common
sense," she said -- would you, an adult, want six vaccines in one
      Then she raised the stakes. Parents should insist that
doctors "separate the vaccines." You know, give them over several
office visits rather than all at once to minimize chances of a bad
      That doesn't sound terribly threatening to public health, does
it? Yet it's heresy -- completely contrary to the position of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
      "Use of licensed combination vaccines ... is preferred to
separate injection of their equivalent component vaccines," says the
CDC's authoritative Pink Book of vaccine-preventable diseases.
      And they should all be administered "as soon as the child
becomes eligible for vaccination."
      And they should contain mercury, if we say so.
      By putting her foot down, Katie Wright joins thousands of other
parents putting the "father-knows-best" branch of medicine on notice
that it's not nutty to use common sense when your child's health is
at stake.
      Others will differ, but that's what I call a public service