Scale back ban against mercury in flu vaccines
The Legislature approved a ban on mercury in flu vaccine that some people say causes autism.
CONTROVERSY about the presence of mercury in flu vaccine for infants resulted in an overreaching bill in the Legislature that could result in a shortage of the vaccine for children and adults. Scientists disagree about whether the mercury causes neurodevelopmental harm to newborns, but Governor Lingle should veto the flawed bill banning any mercury in vaccines and await more sensible legislation next year.
No scientific link has been established between thimerosal, a mercury preservative, and autism, a once-rare behavioral disorder that has become more common than childhood cancer, diabetes and Down syndrome. However, many parents are convinced that the mercury causes autism, and numbers support their belief.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate than 300,000 U.S. children are afflicted with autism. The survey confirms that the disorder has reached epidemic proportions, and researchers are trying to determine why.
In 2004, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine concluded there is no causal link between vaccines and autism. The Autism Society of America disagreed with the conclusion and called for more research. The National Alliance for Autism Research, Autism Speaks and Cure Autism issued a joint statement saying thimerosal "is among the environmental factors currently under investigation."
Cases of autism skyrocketed in the 1990s, as the CDC increased recommended vaccines from three to 22, many containing mercury, to preschool children. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Public Health Service called for removal of thimerosal from all vaccines as a "precautionary" measure. Consequently, it was removed from many childhood vaccines but still is added to some flu vaccines administered to infants.
A study published two months ago in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons suggests that the 1999 reduction of vaccines containing mercury administered to children created a turnaround in autism cases. National and California reporting systems both show that what had been a trend of significant quarterly increases in new autism cases turned into a trend of sharp decreases beginning in 2002.
Autism generally is diagnosed in children at age 3 to 4, so the study supports the view that autism rates took a turn down as a result of the 1999 precautions. Even though no causal link has been been medically established, those numbers should lead to further precautions.
However, the Hawaii legislation's ban "offers no benefit to the children of Hawaii and has the potential to create a lot of harm in the vaccination programs established for children," Dr. Galen Chock of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Hawaii chapter told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn. Legislators should make an appointment with doctors before again enacting such sweeping measures with health consequences.