"Shouldn't someone in the medical community take a more scientific look at this?" Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said at a briefing at the National Press Club. "Don't we deserve at least that much?"
Maloney cited reporting by UPI's Dan Olmsted in his Age of Autism column that found relatively few never-vaccinated children with autism. Olmsted looked for autistic children among unvaccinated Amish; in a subset of homeschooled children who are not vaccinated for religious reasons; and in a pediatric practice in Chicago with several thousand never-vaccinated children.
"Though admittedly unscientific, it is startling how dramatically lower the incidence of autism appears to be in these populations," Maloney said. "To date, no autism study of note has used a control group in which children who were never vaccinated were compared with children that did receive vaccinations containing thimerosal."
Most medical authorities -- including the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- say there is no evidence linking vaccines and autism. But some parents and a minority of scientists suspect the culprit may be a mercury preservative called thimerosal that was used increasingly in vaccines beginning around 1990.
Thimerosal was phased out of routine childhood immunizations starting in 1999 but remains in most flu shots, which are now recommended by the CDC for pregnant women and for children 6 months to 5 years old.
"While I do not know if mercury causes autism, I can say definitely that parents deserve answers about this epidemic," Maloney said. "Right now, I believe there are still more questions than answers. We have the potential for a much more thorough and conclusive study of mercury and autism."
The proposed legislation would direct the secretary of health and human services to launch "a comprehensive study comparing total health outcomes, including risk of autism, in vaccinated populations in the United States with such outcomes in unvaccinated populations in the United States."
Maloney expects to introduce the bill in late April after allowing a period for comments and suggestions. It is posted at http://maloney.house.gov/documents/health/mercury/20060330DraftAutismBill.pdf
Federal health officials, including CDC Director Julie Gerberding, have said that such a study would be problematic because most American children have had at least some vaccinations; because autism diagnoses can be difficult to make and compare; and because never-vaccinated children in communities such as the Amish might have genetic differences that would invalidate such a study.
But at a news conference last summer Gerberding said such studies "could and should be done" if feasible.
Olmsted, who spoke at Thursday's briefing, said he believes that, besides the Amish, there are tens of thousands of never-vaccinated children who would be representative of the U.S. pediatric population.
Other speakers were David Kirby, author of "Evidence of Harm," a book about the thimerosal controversy from the perspective of parents of autistic children, and Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society of America.
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