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Autism, Vaccines and Mercury

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Updated November 06, 2009

In the world of autism, vaccines have been a hot topic of conversation. Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was used in many vaccines between the late 1980s to 2003, plays a big role in the conversation.

The type of mercury used in thimerosal is generally cleared from the body within six weeks, which in theory would render it harmless. But according to those researchers who believe that the preservative causes autism, babies born during that 20-year window were injected with many times the "safe" level as determined by the FDA -- and some, they feel, were genetically incapable of clearing the doses of mercury from their bodies. Mercury is, in fact, a neurotoxin, and the theory is that the recent leap in autism diagnoses can be directly tied to thimerosal.

Perspectives on Thimerosal

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine undertook a comprehensive review of all the published literature on thimerosal and autism and concluded that the available evidence demonstrate that there was no link. The CDC launched a series of studies that examined the relationship between the incidence of autism and the amount of mercury a child received in the first 6 months of life and also found no relationship.

Although all published credible studies have found no link between thimerosal and autism, some continue to be unconvinced.

A book by David Kirby called "Evidence of Harm" lays out what certainly has all the earmarks of a conspiracy within the federal health system. According to Kirby, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, "our public-health authorities knowingly allowed the pharmaceutical industry to poison an entire generation of American children." These types of accusations continue to fuel anxiety and vaccine resistance among some parents.

Thimerosal-Free Options for Concerned Parents

At present, the thimerosal controversy continues, even though the removal of thimerosal from vaccines has not resulted in lower rates of autism diagnoses.

Parents who continue to be concerned should be aware that thimerosal has now been removed from most vaccines -- and thimerosal-free vaccines are available across the board.

Sources:

CDC Factsheet on MMR and Autism.
Thoughtful House FAQs.

Email Interview with Thoughtful House research staff.

Science Daily: "The Age of Autism:Pox Parts 1-4".

"Deadly Immunity" in Rolling Stone Magazine, June 20 2005.

DeStefano F. Thimerosal-containing vaccines: evidence versus public apprehension. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2009 Jan;8(1):1-4.

Fombonne E. Thimerosal disappears but autism remains. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Jan;65(1):15-6

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