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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Debate on autism and vaccines puts parents on edge

By JULIE DEARDORFF of The Chicago Tribune
Published Friday, July 29, 2005

I held my son and cried when he received his first vaccinations. But my tears weren’t over his pain. Instead, I was thinking, "What if vaccines really do cause autism?"

Most parents fall into two camps when it comes to the complex issue of childhood immunizations. One group has no idea a controversy is raging over the mercury-based preservative thimerosal still found in some vaccines. They dutifully give their babies 21 jabs in the first 18 months of life. Others have heard just enough to be terrified. We’re parents who know disease prevention must be a collective effort. We never want to see a child with polio or diphtheria.

Yet we also wonder whether thimerosal, containing about 50 percent ethyl mercury, is linked to autism, an unproven theory. We wonder why mercury, a neurotoxin, is still in vaccines even though government agencies asked that it be removed several years ago.

But most of all, we wonder: How do I best protect my child?

Mercury exposure from childhood vaccinations more than doubled between 1988 and 1992 as more vaccines were introduced. But no one bothered to calculate cumulative exposure. When a government researcher finally did in 1999, he found it exceeded the federal limits.

During the same time period, there was a corresponding spike in reported cases of autism spectrum disorders, said "Evidence of Harm" author David Kirby, who cites a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Despite no conclusive evidence that thimerosal was harmful, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service in 1999 called for its removal.

Today, as a preventive measure, most - but not all - vaccines are thimerosal-free. Regardless, the government says our children will be safe. In what was to be the final word on the contentious issue, the prestigious Institute of Medicine issued a report last May that found no connection between vaccines and autism.

But the finding only further enraged parents of autistic children. Moms Against Mercury and nearly a dozen other advocacy groups held a rally last week for anti-thimerosal legislation in Washington, D.C. As of July 1, six states had banned it, including Missouri. More than 30 other states have pending legislation.

But what can parents do in the meantime?

Posted by Cy

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