Autism Advocates Push For New Federal Vaccine Agency

|

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?

NEXT: Kansas And Creationism Redux

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Huh, basing a medical regulatory body on psudo-science or non-science. Who’d a thunk that? Why do we need this body and how does this differ from the FDA?

  2. Whoever said that we can’t have multiple conflicting agencies charged with the same responsibilities, Kwix?

    For a really fun exercise, try going through the list of Federal agencies, and see if you can identify one that doesn’t have conflicting agencies charged with the same responsbilities.

    For some heavy exercise, try picking up and carrying the list of Federal agencies. Ugh.

  3. And what credulous parent will modify his or her behavior based on the existence of this new agency?

    Regrettably, it’s going to take a whooping-cough epidemic to turn this one around.

  4. Gov’t that forces parents to give vaccines it think is best to children = legitimate

    Gov?t that forces parents to give chemo it thinks is best to children = overbearing

  5. wingflapper, I’m going to have to call bullshit on this comparison. Cancer doesn’t spread through the population the way that pertussis or polio do.

    I’m not certain that I don’t agree that the gov’t may not have a legitimate role here — but your analysis is specious.

  6. Ok, if Thimerosal has been gone for seven years, has there been a change in the incidence of autism?

  7. Now, when you say “little evidence,” does that mean the amount of evidence is greater than, less than, or about the same as, the evidence for man-made global warming, circa 2005?

    I’m just tyring to adjust my Bailey-meter.

  8. Ok, if Thimerosal has been gone for seven years, has there been a change in the incidence of autism?

    I’m pretty sure diagnoses of autism have been on a pretty steady increase.

    Which, under the correlation is causation logic so beloved of regulators, must mean that Thimerosal actually prevents autism!

  9. Well, joe, since there is virtually no evidence for man-made global warming, I would have to say you are asking a trick question.

    The reason I say there is virtually no evidence for man-made global warming is that we cannot explain or establish how much of the current warming trend is natural, and so we cannot say how much of it is due to human activity. Its hard to say that you have evidence for a certain activity or event, when you cannot even define the extent (and thus the existence) of that activity or event.

  10. “Regrettably, it’s going to take a whooping-cough epidemic to turn this one around.”

    I’m happy to step aside and let natural selection take over.

  11. To be sure, there is a fair amount of modern-day Luddism among vaccine opponents. In my experience, most of them are simliar to flat-earthers when it comes to scientific arguments.

    BUT I think such unhealthy skepticism is well-nourished by the Government’s insistence that every new vaccine is the Latest and Greatest Step Forward in Public Health, and if you as a parent don’t agree you’re looked upon as a child abuser.

    Parents nowadays are required to vaccinate their children against an ever-increasing number of diseases at an ever-increasing cost for an ever-decreasing benefit. Yet the CDC continues to tout new vaccines that protect against minor or rare diseases as essential to preserving public health.

    Take the chickenpox vaccine, for example. For the overwhelming majority of healthy, normal children, chickenpox is a mild, self-limiting disease that resolves without complications and confers life-long immunity. Yet the vaccine, although effective in preventing chickenpox during childhood years, might actually hurt recipients by keeping them from getting chickenpox as a child — when the symptoms are much milder — and then wearing off as they age, making them more vulnerable to severe symptoms if they are exposed.

    I’m not anti-vaccine. But it seems that vaccines today are more geared to preventing limited outbreaks of unusual diseases than protecting the public against widespread epidemics.

    If smallpox is the “gold standard” of vaccines — inexpensive, easy to deliver, protects against a highly contagious, deadly disease — alot of these new vaccines have a long way to go. Most are rather costly, require several boosters, and protect against diseases that pose little threat to the general public. It’s no wonder that some folks would become suspicious.

  12. Thankfully, the state does not yet force parents to give vaccinations against a parent’s wishes.

    I understand the emotion driving these parents – having an autistic child sucks very much. And I don’t think it’s kooky to think that the government might just be lying about the safety of vaccines. I know it?s hard to believe, the government lie?!

    Parent?s frustration comes with the ignorance and helplessness surrounding autism. Having a doctor say “yea, she has autism, and no, there’s not anything you can do about it” is just not acceptable. So parents are looking for someone to blame, and maybe some hope for a cure. “If it’s the metal, then let?s get rid of it.” I wish that is was that simple.

    Also, thimerosal is not the only suspect in vaccines. There is some growing evidence that ties autism with the brain?s immune response. Response to what, who knows, but it?s not out of the realm of possibility to suspect that it might be in response to drugs designed to manipulate a child?s immune system.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041117004123.htm

    Anyway, the bottom line is that desperate people might not be as rational as one would hope.

  13. [i]Thankfully, the state does not yet force parents to give vaccinations against a parent’s wishes.[/i]

    Try enrolling your child in school without proof of vaccination

  14. We haven’t had to deal with that yet, and hopefully, we won’t ever have to.

    I do know it can be a challange finding a pediatrician, though.

    My latest kid, one week old today, won’t get vaccinations for two years. They didn’t give us too much guff at the hospital.

  15. Try enrolling your child in school without proof of vaccination

    Utah allows parents to “opt out” due to religious or strong personal reasons. My wife went to the Health Department and successfully got a waiver for my daughter for chickenpox (see above) but she did get a fair amount of dirty looks.

    My objection to vaccines is not based on philosophy but is based more on costs versus benefits. Is it really justifiable to force vaccinations against a minor disease on the entire population (and thus expose some of them to potentially lethal side-effects) in order to prevent a handful of fatalities in a susceptible subpopulation?

  16. The removal of thimerosal was not based on evidence of harm, but was justified by invoking the dangerously conservative precautionary principle.

    It doesn’t seem like this was done because of the precautionary principle, but because the authorities wanted to avoid unnecessary fights with misinformed parents. If the vaccines are just as effective without thimerosal, why insist on including that ingredient if the parents would rather not?

  17. Clean Hands:
    I’m not certain that I don’t agree that the gov’t may not

    my head hurts.

  18. I’m with Captain Holly on chickenpox. It makes more sense to wait and see if your kid will get it naturally, and only vaccinate if he or she reaches the age where chickenpox can be a serious problem.

  19. Now, when you say “little evidence,” does that mean the amount of evidence is greater than, less than, or about the same as, the evidence for man-made global warming, circa 2005?

    I’m just tyring to adjust my Bailey-meter.

    Good point. While I definitely agree with Mr. Bailey on this point, it does have to be mentioned that his credibility is in the crapper.

  20. “There is little solid scientific evidence that thimerosal is the culprit for increased rates of autism.”

    There is also little solid evidence that the true incidence rates of autism and autism spectrum disorders are/have been/were increasing… although there will be soon be better evidence to allow us to answer that question.

  21. Trey,
    Interesting research article.
    This is like the Thimerosal link however.

    There is a plausible path to autism from the mercury, but the evidence doesn’t support it as a problem in a large enough number of kids with autism to be found with epidemiological studies.

    As with anything in this area… just because it is unlikely to cause an effect, doesn’t mean it won’t cause an effect in you. The chances are exceedingly small, however, for the thimerosal link being the reason a particular child has autism. The immune response aspect has some legs as well, but will be difficult to tease out until we stop talking about Autism as if it were a unified disorder with a single aetiology.

    Lots of work to do.

  22. “I’m pretty sure diagnoses of autism have been on a pretty steady increase.

    Which, under the correlation is causation logic so beloved of regulators, must mean that Thimerosal actually prevents autism!”

    I think that would require a demonstration that the trend (if you believe in it) changed as a result of removing Thimerosal.

    (similar to the global warming thing)

  23. Clean Hands:
    I’m not certain that I don’t agree that the gov’t may not

    my head hurts.

    I agree with Clean Hands (or I think I do – that’s a triple negative, right?) – communicable diseases can be a legitimate concern for the government.

    In the context of schools, I wouldn’t find it objectionable if a private school required students to be vaccinated to enroll – it’s an entirely sensible policy and I wouldn’t want to enroll my children in a school where the kids were not vaccinated, since even if I get my children vaccinated, vaccines don’t have 100% efficacy. I don’t see why it makes sense to not have similar restrictions on the usage of public schools – even if the current vaccine requirements are unnecessarily extensive, this is a legitimate area for the government to be setting requirements.

  24. communicable diseases can be a legitimate concern for the government…

    And if not of the government’s, then they are definitely a legitimate concern for industry and employers, since when kids get sick, their parents miss work.

    However, I’m quite happy to allow thimerosal-phobic parents to eschew childhood vaccinations if it gets us any closer to culling such blithering idiots from the population.

  25. “The reason I say there is virtually no evidence for man-made global warming is that we cannot explain or establish how much of the current warming trend is natural, and so we cannot say how much of it is due to human activity.”

    Apparently, “we” doesn’t include the NSF, NASA, NOAA, or 99% of the climate researchers in the world.

    RC Dean and hampshter can’t explain or establish that man-made global warming is occuring, and he don’t need no pointy heads telling him different.

    A sad case.

    1. It doesn’t matter, rising costs from clean energy make poor people’s lives much harder. And poverty is a far larger problem.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.