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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Vaccine-bill backers hopeful of chances

Parents, sponsors optimistic Legislature will pass measure banning mercury from shots

Susan Redden
The Joplin Globe

CARTHAGE, Mo. - Sponsors and supporters of a bill that would ban a mercury agent from childhood vaccines hope the measure will be passed by Missouri lawmakers during this legislative session.

"We think the chances are excellent because the science is there," said Lujene Clark, of Carthage.

Clark and her husband, Alan, have been lobbying for passage of laws in Missouri and other states that would ban thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, from childhood vaccines.

Alan Clark will be among those testifying Wednesday during hearings before Senate and House committees.

Lujene Clark said that Roy Holand, a physician and former legislator from Springfield, also will speak, along with several other parents.

Holand last session sponsored a thimerosal-banning bill that was approved in the House by a vote of 152-4. The measure was unanimously endorsed by a Senate committee, but failed to reach a Senate vote after it fell victim to a filibuster on the last day of the session.

Rep. Robert Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, also a physician and sponsor of the House legislation this year, said the measure's chances are "excellent.

"An identical bill passed the House last year, and I don't see why it won't again," he said.

Lujene Clark said there is bipartisan support in the Senate, where bills have been introduced by Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, and Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

"Senator Charles Wheeler (a Kansas City Democrat and a physician) also has told us he agrees with the bill," she said.

The Clarks have been lobbying for legislation banning thimerosal since they found what they say is a growing amount of research that links mercury in vaccines to disorders including attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, Asperger syndrome and autism.

The Clarks' son, Devon, now 9, was diagnosed in 2001 with ADHD and in 2003 with Asperger syndrome, often described as high-functioning autism.

The couple, who met with researchers and underwent training for parents of children with autism, say Devon's problems started and accelerated as he received routine childhood vaccinations.

His problems worsened dramatically, they say, after he received a flu shot, administered because of an asthma condition.

For about the past year, Devon has been undergoing treatments to remove mercury from his system. His performance at school has improved, he no longer takes medicine for Asperger syndrome or asthma, and he rarely has to use an inhaler, Lujene Clark said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which sets vaccine requirements for the United States, rejects any link between the preservative and autism or other disorders. Vaccine manufacturers also reject any link, but Lujene Clark points to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times that said the level of mercury in vaccines was a concern, as early as 1991, of executives with drug giant Merck & Co.

The newspaper cited a March 1991 memo by a Merck executive that said 6-year-old children who received their shots on schedule would get a mercury dose up to 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish.

Federal health officials in 1999 disclosed that many infants were being exposed, through routine vaccinations, to mercury above health guidelines. Thimerosal has been removed from most pediatric vaccines in recent years.

The Clarks lobbied for laws banning thimerosal in Iowa and California, where measures have been passed and signed into law.

"We're not against vaccines; we know vaccines are important," Lujene Clark said. "What we want are safe vaccines."

This year, in addition to the Missouri bill, the couple are working on or helping other parents with similar legislation in Nebraska, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington state.

Lujene Clark also is hosting a weekly program on Autism One, an Internet radio operation.

Posted by Becca

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