Vaccines and Autism - Errors and News

I know I shouldn't write any more about vaccines and autism, because I could do it forever and probably not change a single mind. But I have to. First, I have to apologize for an error. I was wrong when I stated that the three vaccines in MMR are not sold separately. The vaccines are indeed sold as Attenuvax, Mumpsvax, and Meruvax, although most pediatricians don't stock these products.

I also stated that "The amount of mercury in vaccines is so small that even five or ten doses still delivers almost none." This is true, but misleading. For most vaccines available today, the amount of mercury is actually zero. You can look it up on this site.

The debate about vaccines is not over, I have learned. But the question about thimerosal causing autism is settled, at least in my own mind. Autism has continued to rise at the same that the amount of mercury has dropped sharply, so it is clear that mercury cannot be the main cause.

Nonetheless, vaccines probably do cause brain damage in very rare cases. In this, they are like many other medications. For example, allergic reactions to common antibiotics cause something like 100 deaths each year. We still use (and prescribe!) these drugs, though, because the benefits far outweigh the risks.

As parents, we can't make our children's lives risk-free. We can only make choices to keep them as safe as possible, and then hope for the best.

The same day I wrote this blog (4/16), the New York Times carried two related stories. A study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that Merck had ghost-written scientific articles about Vioxx. The drug company (which also makes the MMR vaccine) wrote articles supporting its best-selling drug. Medical school professors then put their names on these articles, as if they were the actual authors.

News like this just makes my head spin. No wonder people are willing to believe that everything promoted by mainstream medicine is a lie! Drug company marketing has become more aggressive (and, in this case, frankly immoral); at the same time, public funding for medical research through the National Institutes of Health has been cut back. If we want science we can trust, we need to reverse this trend.

The other news story involves a chemical called BPA. Hard plastic water bottles, the plastic lining in food cans, and even baby bottles, all contain BPA. A Canadian expert panel has found that small amounts of BPA may damage developing brains, in animals and perhaps in humans. A U.S. expert panel has raised the same possibility, while calling for more research.

I don't know if BPA in baby bottles causes autism. I suspect that there are many substances in our chemical-laced environment that can interfere with normal brain development. As we learn more, I think there will be more, not less, reason for concern.

The question is, knowing as little as we do right now, how can we best protect our children? Here are some sensible, if not scientifically proven, ideas: Store food and drinks in glass, rather than plastic; eat fresh or frozen vegetables; and support breast feeding.