Wall Street Journal: Vaccine-Autism Link Is Discounted

Panel Finds No Connection But Some Interest Groups, Congressmen Don’t Agree
By Kimberly Pierceall, May 15, 2004

Moving to put to rest a long-running debate, an Institute of Medicine panel said it found no link between autism and childhood vaccines.

The institute, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said
studies linking the disorder and the mercury-based vaccine preservative
thimerosal as well as the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella “lack
supporting evidence and are theoretical only”.

The panel urged researchers to stop looking at vaccines as a cause of
autism, and instead examine other possible ~ including genetic links and
prenatal infections.

Marie C. McCormick, a Harvard professor of maternal and child health
who headed the Immunization Safety Review Committee, and panel member Steven Goodman, a John Hopkins University associate professor, said they would vaccinate their own children without fears of autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National
Institutes of Health formed the committee to investigate claims that
vaccines cause health problems. The report issued yesterday is the last in a
series, and it dealt solely with the question of whether vaccines cause
autism, a developmental disorder that seriously impairs a child’s ability to
learn and socialize and is usually diagnosed at about the same time children
receive many of the recommended childhood vaccines.

Reported cases of autism have been on the rise in the U.S., but the
reason for it has been a matter of debate. Many experts say It is the result
of more awareness and thus more diagnoses; critics of that theory say there
is an epidemic and want to know Why. Citing two studies, the committee said
that one in every 1000 children is autistic. But some activists contend the
condition may afflict as many as one in every 250 children.

Based on reaction to the report yesterday, the debate is unlikely to
be quelled. Rep. Dave Weldon (R., Fla, who introduced legislation in early April
that would ban mercury from children’s vaccines, called the report
premature. “This report will not deter me from my commitment to seeing that
this is fully investigated, nor will it put to rest the concerns of parents
who believe their children were harmed by mercury-containing vaccines or the
MMR vaccine,” he said. Rep. Weldon, a physician, also has a personal
interest in the matter: a friend’s son was diagnosed as autistic around the
time he was vaccinated.

Rep. Dan Burton (R. lnd), a leading advocate of ridding vaccines of
mercury, said the study is “bunk.” Rep. Burton’s grandson was diagnosed with autism also around the time he got vaccines containing mercury.

A number of interest groups representing parents of autistic children
also criticized the panel’s report. Lyn Redwood, president of SafeMinds, a
nonprofit group that wants to end all use of thimerosal In vaccines, said in
a statement that the panel “issued a flawed, incomplete report that
continues to put America’s children at risk.’ Thlmerosal had been used in
some vaccines since the 1930s, but vaccine makers began phasing it out in
1999 and most vaccines today don’t contain the preservative.

Wyeth, a leading children’s vaccine producer, welcomed the report. The
report “strongly confirms that there is no evidence linking
thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, a conclusion previously reported
by numerous U.S. and European scientists and public-health officials,” said
Wyeth spokesman Lowell Weiner.

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine panel left open the possibility of
a link between vaccines and autism, and yesterday’s report aught to end that
debate. though it left open the possibility vaccines could cause
immune-system problems.

‘The committee doesn’t dispute that mercury containing compounds can
be damaging to the immune system,” said Dr. McCormick. She said parents
should choose a thimerosal-free vaccine if one is available but if it isn’t,
parents should have their children vaccinated anyway.

A large-scale Danish study published in 2002 found no relationship
between the MMR vaccine and autism. Researchers reviewed the records of all children born in Denmark from 1991 through 1998-a total of 537,303 chlldren and found no difference in autism rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

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