Friday, March 28, 2008

Autism, Vaccines and A Shot in the Dark by Cornelia Read

I am not a member of either camp in the mercury /thimerosal/vaccines cause autism war . While I do not promote the vaccine autism theory I have never ruled vaccines, mercury or thimerosal as possible causes or contributing factors, along with other environmental factors, to the startling increases in autism. Nor do I subscribe to the easy assumptions promoted by the Neurodiversity faithful that the entirety of these increases is due to changing diagnostic definitions and criteria of autism, greater societal awareness and other social factors although I accept that these factors undoubtedly explain part of the increase.

The amazing research being conducted on the genetic bases of autism does not rule out environmental causes. Genetic conditions may create predispositions toward autism without being wholly explanatory of the development of autism. The fact that identical twins can have one autistic and one non-autistic twins suggests that external or environmental factors are also involved.

Nothing divides the autism world nearly as much as the mercury wars. Although I recognize the dangers posed by under vaccination of children and do not subscribe myself to the thimerosal causes autism theories I still try to keep an open mind and read new information as it emerges. Usually I try to read, to the best of my ability, and with the aid of professional interpretation, the new scientific literature on the subject. Most internet commentary is simply a rehash of fixed points of view and of questionable value no matter which camp it originates with but there are exceptions.

Writer Cornelia Read has written a blog comment called A Shot in the Dark at The Naked Truth about Literature and Life where she is one of the authors who "wrestle with the naked truth about literature and life". I recommend to anyone interested in autism who still has an open mind about the subject to read Ms Read's blog comment. It is well written and covers a lot of interesting ground, including the tobacco industry/cancer cover up, the "refrigerator moms theory of autism causation", the Simpsonwood conference, the rebuttal to the AAP provided by Dr. Michael Wagnitz father of an autistic child and a toxicologist, and the Polling case. Ms Read's comment is well written and thought provoking ....... if you are still open to thinking about this issue.


Cornelia Read said...

Thank you so much for linking to my post. As I said at the end of it, I don't know that thimerosal or vaccines cause autism--could be peanut butter additives, could be exposure to wheat bran and Sea Monkeys-- but I think a hell of a lot more research needs to be done on the causes and possible treatments.

Again, thank you,


Nestor L. Lopez-Duran PhD said...

Interesting reading H. But as I read it it can't help but think back at the major theoretical conundrum facing the anti-vaccine movement: How to maintain the focus on the harmful effects of mercury in the context of stable-to-increasing rates of autism after mercury is no longer included in vaccines. The author of the post you mentioned the non-published California data that was found to be an bleep since the rates in California continued to increase from 2004 to 2007 (I reviewed that paper on Translating Autism). The published California rates increased from 1 in 333 live births in 2004 to 1 in 243 live births in 2007. And as many people suspect, these are probably underestimates. Whether these represent real increases given the large fluctuations we have seen with these numbers over time it is difficult to say, but what it is clear, is that the expected decrease in rates (as hinted by the initial California data mentioned on that post) did not materialize. Cheers, Nestor.

Unknown said...

Thank you for visiting Ms Read. A Shot in the Dark was thought provoking.

Unknown said...

Hi Nestor

I thank you for commenting. As you know I appreciate your expertise and your balance and objectivity.

I do know though that the California official involved with that recent epidemiological study acknowledged that not all thimerosal had been removed from the vaccines. Dr. Wagnitz numbers quoted in Ms Read's article were:

0.5 parts per billion (ppb) mercury = Kills human neuroblastoma cells (Parran et al., Toxicol Sci 2005; 86: 132-140).

2 ppb mercury = U.S. EPA limit for drinking water

20 ppb mercury = Neurite membrane structure destroyed (Leong et al., Neuroreport 2001; 12: 733-37).
200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste.

Is ANY amount of mercury safe for injection into children? Calling something "trace" amounts seems to dodge that issue does it not?

As I have often said I am not an advocate of the thimerosal/autism theory but it doesn't seem to me that matters are as clear cut as officials indicate based on continued presence of SOME mecury in the vaccines.

Nestor L. Lopez-Duran PhD said...

Hi Harold, this is definitely a complex issue and I wouldn't be surprised if at the end the answer is somewhere in the middle. But the epidimiological data continues to represent a problem for the anti-vaccine advocates. The original theory was that the increases in autism observed in the 90s was due to the changes in vaccine schedules and increases in the number of vaccines containing thimerosal - changes that occurred during that time. That is a reasonable hypothesis. It is also reasonable to hypothesize that the “threshold of harm” for thimerosal is below what is now considered 'trace amounts,' so that current 'safe vaccines' are not that safe. But what the theory should predict is that once the scheduling and rates of vaccines become stable the rates of autism would stabilize. Thus in the 90s we saw an increase in autism due to the changes in vaccine, but then the increase is supposed to stop as no new vaccine scheduling changes take place. Even if thimerosal had not been pulled, thimerosal can't explain the continued increases, unless we also argue that the rates of giving such vaccines have continued to increase. Take Tardive Dyskinesia as a relevant example. This is a severe neuromuscular disorder caused by (mostly older) antipsychotic medications. In the 60s and 70s there was an exponential increase of this disorder as psychiatrists began using antipsychotic drugs to treat schizophrenia. In the late 70s and 80s the rates stabilized, as expected, in parallel with the stabilization of prescriptions of traditional neuroleptic drugs. Then in the 90s and 2000s, as new antipsychotic drugs became available, the rates of the disorder began to decrease. Thus the rates of a disorder are expected to fluctuate, just like Tardive Dyskinesia did, in parallel to changes in the proposed cause. The problem is that autism does not seem to be behaving this way. Anyhow, I hope the research continues so that we can get some clearer answers soon. Have a great weekend. Cheers, Nestor.

Anonymous said...

Vaccines also contain aluminum, which is also a neurotoxin, and (despite any blathering to the contrary) many vaccines (if not most) still contain mercury, in amounts that are being called "trace."

Mercury and aluminum are synergystic, which means that used together, they are much more toxic than either one when used alone.

Look it up, anyone, if you're interested. You can start at

I am weary tonight of trying to convince anyone that it might be best to remove all unnecessary toxins from infant vaccinations. It seems like such a common sense thing to do, that I can't believe we're still arguing about it!

The full amount of mercury is still used in flu shots, which are pushed quite heavily in the U.S., and pregnant women continue to be injected with mercury-laced flu shots on a routine basis.

Thank you, by the way, for posting this extremely powerful piece.


P.S. Perhaps I am just stupid. Tell me, then--anyone--why do we continue to use unnecessary neurotoxins in infant vaccinations and on pregnant women?

Perhaps I've missed it somehow.

Julie L. said...

As someone who has followed health news for years, I realize that research and beliefs in regards to various conditions like autism or diabetes can be turned upside down in a heartbeat. It's unfortunate that this issue has divided the autism communtiy. I, too, have adopted an objective view in regards to mercury/thimerosal, etc. Am hoping to get the courage to blog about vaccines myself sometime in the future.

Maya M said...

I'd like to mention that the less than 100% coincidence of autism in identical twins does not, per se, point to environmental contribution. After all, identical twins usually share not only genes but also environment. Pure mouse strains also have identical genes and (as far as we can judge) identical environment, yet many strain-specific disorders have prevalence of less than 100%, often less than 50%. The phenomenon of gene(s) determining a trait in only some of its carriers (penetrance) has been known even before the era of modern genetics. Moreover, when the trait is here, its degree sometimes may vary greatly (expressivity).
Of course this doesn't prove than environmental factors don't contribute to autism.