Autism case unfairly targets vaccines
A very dangerous thing happened on Monday. A court decided to hear one of thousands of cases in which parents of autistic children accuse vaccine manufacturers of ignoring health risks by including thiomersal, a preservative that contains mercury, in children’s vaccines.
While it is likely that the child in question received a dose of this compound with her vaccines, it is unlikely that it is in fact the cause of her current health problems. Furthermore, several thousand other cases have been filed, including cases where the child was too young to have been inoculated using vaccines containing the mercury-based compound.
This test case involves a 12-year-old girl who had measles after her vaccination at 15 months, and has since had multiple chronic health problems as a complication. Though it’s possible for a person to get a disease despite vaccination, it is quite unlikely that the mercury in the vaccine played any role in her health problems.
The part of the suit getting attention, though, isn’t her post-measles complications – it’s her autism.
Over the past decade, there have been several studies funded by the government and independent organizations that have tried to establish a connection between thiomersal in vaccines and autism. Every single study thus far has come to the same conclusion: there is no connection.
The only paper connecting the two has long-since been discredited as a sham, written by a doctor that was being paid to concoct evidence against the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for a trial in the United Kingdom in 1998.
Since that time, thiomersal use in vaccines has been discontinued, mostly out of concern for the image of vaccine safety.
Even with thiomersal’s disappearance from vaccinations, the number of new autism and autism-related disorders continues to grow each year, most likely due to better screenings and a change in diagnostic standards in 1994. The increase in autism rates means that the disorder is probably not related to vaccines at all, but instead stems from another cause.
Furthermore, the fact that males diagnosed with autism outnumber females 10:1 would indicate that vaccines, which are given to all children, regardless of gender, are not likely to be the culprit. Instead, it is far more likely that there is a genetic factor, probably based on the Y chromosome that is intensified by environmental circumstances.
This case should not have made it to court, with a large amount of evidence against the claim, and almost nothing to support it. While it may be possible that some of the girl’s health troubles – which include inflammatory bowel disease, glaucoma and epilepsy – may have been exacerbated by the administration of the vaccine on a weakened immune system, the fact is that the autism case will not stick, nor should it.
The reality is that the media is desperate for a story, and while the story of a girl who had a very rare adverse reaction to a vaccine may be interesting for medical and legal purposes, it doesn’t connect with many people.
Throw autism into the mix, however, and suddenly the media has a market to scare into watching ads, hence the headlines mentioning autism while excluding the girl’s other medical problems.
McCormick, a computer science post baccalaureate student, can be reached via [email protected]