Last week two members of the House of Representatives, pandering to the fears of the anguished parents of autistic children, introduced the Vaccine Safety and Public Confidence Assurance Act of 2006. Many such parents are convinced that vaccination caused their children's illness although most scientific evidence suggests that that is not so. One chief claim is that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal is responsible for increases in autism in the United States. The new Agency for Vaccine Safety Evaluation would take over monitoring vaccines for safety from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is little solid scientific evidence that thimerosal is the culprit for increased rates of autism. Nevertheless, in 1999 the CDC and various medical organizations, concerned that parents confused by misinformation on the Internet and in the media would refuse to vaccinate their children, asked vaccine makers to remove thimerosal from their vaccines. According to the CDC: "Today, with the exception of some Influenza (flu) vaccines, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool children against 12 infectious diseases contain thimerosal as a preservative."
The removal of thimerosal was not based on evidence of harm, but was justified by invoking the dangerously conservative precautionary principle. One popular version of this regulatory principle reads: "Where an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." In other words, alleging "threats" is enough to outlaw a technology.
Given that there is very little evidence that vaccines in the United States are unsafe, it's a real question whether or not we need another federal agency designed to slow the introduction of needed medicines to the public?