Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No Vaccine-Autism Link, Parents Are Told

"We need a war on autism, not a war on childhood vaccines." -- Dr. Peter Hotez

New York Times
July 20, 2005

No Vaccine-Autism Link, Parents Are Told

WASHINGTON, July 19 - Top officials from three of the nation's premier public health agencies held an unusual news conference on Tuesday to say that childhood vaccines are life-saving medicines with no proven link to autism.

"The science says very clearly that vaccines save lives and protect our children," said one of the officials, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To many, that declaration might have seemed akin to an announcement so basic as that high cholesterol readings are linked with heart disease. But the officials felt a need to make a forceful defense of vaccines because a growing number of parents contend that a mercury-containing vaccine preservative called thimerosal caused their children to become autistic. Indeed, several parents held a vigil outside the news conference, with one holding a large sign blaming vaccines for her child's disorder.

Representative Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican who champions the notion that thimerosal has caused an explosion of autism cases around the world, attended the news conference and, after it ended, gave his own press briefing criticizing the public health officials.

"It seemed that this was an effort to assuage public concerns, but I think parents are much smarter than some people give them credit for," said Mr. Weldon, who was a practicing physician before his election to the House in 1994.

Thimerosal was largely removed from all childhood vaccines in 2001. Flu shots were an exception, and Mr. Weldon has sponsored legislation to ban preservative levels of thimerosal from them as well.

Joining Dr. Gerberding at the news conference were Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health Development, and Dr. Murray M. Lumpkin, acting deputy commissioner for international and special programs at the Food and Drug Administration.

All said they were sympathetic to the problems faced by parents with autistic children. "We want the parents of children with autism to know that we are listening to their concerns," Dr. Alexander said.

The National Institutes of Health has quadrupled financing for autism research since 1997, he said, to $102 million in the current fiscal year.

Dr. Lumpkin said doctors wanted parents to examine the data concerning vaccines so that they will realize, he said, that the benefits of the medicines far outweigh their risks.

Three other experts joined the officials at the news conference. Among them was Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher at George Washington University, who is the father of a 12-year-old autistic daughter.

Dr. Hotez said her condition had "come close to tearing our family apart." But he said he and his wife were convinced that their daughter's autism was "not related to vaccines."

"We need a war on autism," he said, "not a war on childhood vaccines."