Last week, an old high school friend of mine named Krister Johnson posted about my book on his Facebook wall. The result has been an interesting discussion–one of the first comments was, “Except that the way in which vaccines are given today [i.e. the volume within a small time frame - not to mention the ones that shouldn't be given] is directly related to autism…”
This morning, a friend of Krister’s wrote the following:
most older type vaccines have mercury drivative in them….Amish who dont use vaccinations virtually no autism….
Both of those rumors appear a lot online. I wrote back a lengthy reply, which I’d like to share with readers here:
“Those are two common beliefs, and certainly they’re repeated a lot online, but neither is true: There has not been any thimerosal (the mercury-based preservative that had been used in vaccines) in ANY childhood vaccines since 2001. Zero. Zip. De nada. There are not any childhood vaccines in production that use thimerosal. In fact, most childhood vaccines never contained thimerosal; the only ones that did were some (but not all) variations of the Hib, TDaP, and hep B vaccines. (It’s worth noting here that the much maligned MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal.)* (There are some variants of the influenza vaccine that have small** amounts of thimerosal — those amounts are smaller than people in America are regularly exposed to, and there are thimerosal-free flu vaccines available.) If thimerosal had been a causal factor in autism, obviously we would have expected autism rates to decline after it was removed from vaccines–and yet the rates have contained to go up.
The CDC has posted many resources about thimerosal and vaccines, including this timeline/FAQ.^
The myth about Amish communities not having autism is another widespread one, and it’s been seized upon by some anti-vaccine activists to support their position.
I understand the fears about vaccines — most of us have not seen children hospitalized with measles or known families whose infants died of whooping cough…and that’s b/c vaccines have been so effective. (It’s part of the catch-22 of vaccines: The more effective they are, the less necessary they seem.) I also understand fears about autism. But I have interviewed families whose children have died. So far this year, 10 infants have died of whooping cough in California.
All of these — the issue of finding accurate medical/scientific information online, the public health issues facing interdependent societies, the need for better communication between doctors and patients — are reasons I wrote my book. This is an incredibly important subject, and one which is so emotional that people can have a hard time talking TO each other instead of AT each other.
That last point is something I’ll be coming back to again and again. Having spent two years talking to people on all sides of this debate, I know that for most part, these people share a common goal — protecting children and improving public health efforts — and everyone would be better served if we could remember this.
* Ital’d comments are points I didn’t make on Facebook.
** In my FB comment I used the word “trace,” which is probably incorrect in this case: That term refers to amounts that are technically too small to measure.
^ Edited for clarity.