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Beth Clay Response to the WSJ Article The Politics of Autism

To the Editor, Science Researchers, and Publisher of the Wall Street Journal:

As the former Congressional Staffer who, for five years, led Chairman Burton’s investigations into the autism epidemic and vaccine safety concerns, I applaud the Wall Street Journal for reporting on the rise in autism rates. There are; however, numerous factual errors in the December 29 Commentary, "The Politics of Autism."

As a result of raising legitimate concerns about the safety of all vaccines, and in particular pediatric vaccines, the vaccine-injured/autism community and Congress have forced the agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be more diligent.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was asleep at the switch and failed to review thimerosal safety in vaccines when they banned thimerosal-containing topical ointments such as Mercurochrome in the 1980’s due to safety concerns. This same FDA aggressively warns pregnant women and young children not to eat mercury-containing fish because it can damage the developing brain and fought to keep mercury thermometers out of the home because of the neurological damage that mercury can cause. Mercury is mercury – whether ethyl or methyl, whether rubbed on the skin, injected into the body, inhaled, or eaten. All forms of mercury pose a risk to humans and should be avoided.

Vaccines are one of the most important advances in medicine and are the only medicines universally mandated in the United States for a child’s attendance in day care and schools. As such, the government has a responsibility to assure that each vaccine mandated is safe on its own and in combination with other vaccines given simultaneously. At present infants in the United States may receive six or more vaccines in one day. Since the late 1980s, each time that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has reviewed the research related to vaccine injury, they have reported back to HHS the paucity of science and asked for more studies. In fact, the IOM first noted concern about a possible link between autism and vaccine injury in 1991 and requested further research. That request fell on deaf ears within HHS.

The statement, "[thimerosal] has never been credibly linked to any health problems" is both misleading and false. In fact, reviewing the published peer reviewed literature, one can find numerous accounts of thimerosal injury and scientists’ concern for safety. Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) documents these articles and a review of internal documents from industry and government in the staff report, ""Mercury in Medicine – Taking Unnecessary Risks" issued by the Committee on Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness in 2003.

Thimerosal is approximately 50% ethylmercury and 50% thiosalicylic acid. Much attention is paid to the known dangers to the central nervous and renal systems of ethylmercury; however, the other component, thiosalicylic acid, poses risk as well as it creates an allergic response in up to 35% of the population. This response may not be apparent with first exposure, but develops after repeated exposures.

When Congress initiated an investigation into vaccine safety, babies within hours of birth were being injected with mercury-containing Hepatitis B vaccine and suffering injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA were aware that one brand of Hepatitis B vaccine had significantly more adverse reactions than the other brand, but refused to disclose to the public which company’s vaccine was showing to be more dangerous. These agencies placed the financial health of a vaccine maker above the physical health of newborn infants.

In stating, "study after study have shown there is no such link" [between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders] the WSJ is again misinformed of the facts. The recent studies, funded through HHS, have had recognized significant flaws with their methodology and population size. Worse still, the agency and the media have overplayed the findings of those few studies. A review of physician-Congressman Dave Weldon’s (R-FL) queries through the series of Congressional hearings on the topic reveals many such weaknesses and flaws. The WSJ would well serve its readers by asking HHS why taxpayer funds are used to fund studies that are obviously flawed or underpowered. There is ample interplay and opportunity between a principal investigator and the funding agency to insure that the limited resources focused on this topic are wisely used. The WSJ additionally failed to note that the CDC indeed found a statistically significant correlation between exposure to thimerosal in vaccines in the first 3 months of life and speech and language delays, tics, ADD/ADHD, and neurodevelopmental delays.

The WSJ discounts the knowledge of parents and down plays the importance of their passion. Throughout history it has been parents who have often been at the forefront of advances in medical discovery and policy. Frequently, these individuals are, or partner with, scientists and medical professionals to lead investigations and research. The infamous "Lorenzo’s Oil" is only one example of such collaborations and successes. In truth, new parents of today have not a governmental agency, nor endeavoring scientist to thank for awareness of vaccine safety issues but the passionate parents of vaccine-injured children. It is they that have spent countless hours, days and years scouring medical literature for keys to unlock the complex set of medical conditions that arise shortly after vaccination – ranging from the symptoms of autism to chronic irritable bowel, ataxia, heavy metal toxicity, food allergies, seizures, and loss of speech. Only through their efforts have the government stepped forward to enable research.

Parents of vaccine-injured (or thimerosal-injured) children who developed the symptoms of autism after inoculation have as much right as every other American to seek legal compensation for medical injury or neglect and product liability. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is an important program. It is intended to shield manufacturers from liability while making it easy for families to be compensated. This prevents inhibition of industry to look for new (and safer) vaccines for the future, while not disregarding the potential needs of the vaccine-injured families. While the companies have reaped the benefits of the program, few vaccine-injured have reaped a similar benefit. The VICP as passed was a good start, but still remains in urgent need of improvement.

Beth Clay

President, BC&A International, LLC

Olney, Maryland


Ms. Clay is a former Senior Professional Staff Member, Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness, Government Reform Committee, US House of Representatives. She led Chairman Dan Burton’s health oversight investigation activities for 5 years.