By Lyn Redwood, SafeMinds Vice President and Founding Board Member
Several months ago I received a call on my cell from a number I didn’t recognize. Usually I let such calls go to voice mail but for some reason I picked it up. A friendly raspy voice alleging to be Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. requested to speak to me. At first I thought it was a hoax. But after a few seconds I recognized the voice from the Ring of Fire talk radio program and realized this was not a prank.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was calling to invite me to attend a high profile meeting that he had arranged with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to discuss the continued use of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, in vaccines.
He also asked if I would be willing to read a research paper that he had commissioned reviewing the science regarding thimerosal, and to accompany him on a meeting with colleagues to call on select members of Congress for help.
I was more than glad to help out. I have spent the last 15 years of my life researching mercury. I have been involved in countless meetings with high levels officials at the CDC, the FDA, the NIH, and the HHS urging them to remove thimerosal from all medical products, including vaccines. I was honored to be a part of this effort and to work with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to protect other children from what happened to my son over 20 years ago.
My son’s story: poisoned by mercury
When he was born, my son weighed close to 9 lbs. He was a happy baby who ate and slept well, smiled, cooed, walked, and talked all by one year. But shortly after his first birthday, my son began to regress physically and developmentally, losing speech, eye contact, and social interactions. He no longer slept through the night and suddenly refused to eat foods that he had previously enjoyed, gagging and spitting them out. He started suffering bouts of bloody diarrhea.
My once active happy baby now only wanted to sit and watch Disney’s Fox and the Hound over and over for hours. After multiple evaluations he was initially diagnosed with a global receptive and expressive speech delay and later with autism.
I am a nurse. My husband is a doctor. We would have never made a correlation between our son’s illnesses and vaccines. But in July 1999 I read that a preservative, thimerosal, utilized in some infant vaccines actually contained 49.6% ethylmercury. According to a joint statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Public Health Service, the FDA had determined that:
“infants who received thimerosal-containing vaccines at several visits may be exposed to more mercury than recommended by Federal Guidelines for total mercury exposure.”
I quickly pulled out the thick file containing my son’s medical records.
My worst fears were confirmed.
All of my son’s early vaccines had contained thimerosal.
I also discovered that the injections that I received during the first and third trimesters of my pregnancy and hours after the delivery of my son to prevent RH blood incompatibility also contained high levels of thimerosal.
Mercury is one of the most toxic metals on earth and adverse health effects from mercury have been known for centuries. The symptoms of mercury poisoning can be highly variable based on the type of mercury, the exposure level, and the sensitivity of the individual exposed.
Developing fetuses, infants, and young children are the most vulnerable to harm from mercury, which interferes with development.
Research proves that even very low levels of exposure have adverse effects on language, attention, and memory, making children less able to think and learn. When you read this list of symptoms, it is easy for even the layperson to correlate that this environmental toxin has caused havoc with our children’s development starting in the late 80’s when the numbers of vaccines containing thimerosal and the epidemic of developmental disorders began to increase.
While acceptable levels for exposure are published by Federal Agencies, mercury is a poison at any level. The dose thought to be safely allowed on a daily basis by the EPA is 0.1mcg per kilogram of body weight per day.
At 2 months of age my son had received 62.5 mcg of mercury from 3 infant vaccines. According to EPA criteria, his allowable dose was only 0.5mcg. He received 125 times his allowable exposure on that one day!
These large injected bolus exposures continued at 4, 6, 12 and 18 months to total mercury exposure of 237.5 mcg the first year and a half of life. Knowing that the major effect of mercury compounds was neurotoxicity, I questioned if these exposures could account for my son’s regression and autism diagnosis.
Since my son was 5 ½ years old when I found out about his exposures to thimerosal, it would be difficult to know what his mercury levels had been at that time. I had remembered reading that hair was often utilized to determine heavy metal exposure, but that it would only reflect exposures at the time of growth. A current hair sample would not be reflective of an exposure that had occurred years earlier.
I had almost given up on finding an answer until I came across a lock of hair that we had saved from his first haircut at 20 months of age.
I sat staring at his beautiful brown locks, knowing I would have to part with them to answer this disturbing question. But I needed to know. With hesitation, but knowing it was for the best, I packed and shipped them off to the lab.
The testing detected 4.8 ppm mercury in his hair. According to the EPA, the allowable levels for mercury in hair is less than 1 ppm and anything above 1 ppm is considered an action level that demands immediate attention to reduce any further exposure. My son’s levels were five times above the action level and that sample of hair did not even reflect his early exposures the first six months of life because he has lost all his baby hair at 6 months. Since my son had never eaten fish or seafood nor had dental amalgams, I had no other identifiable source for his mercury levels outside of thimerosal exposure from vaccines and my Rho D injections during and after pregnancy.
As a nurse and a member of the Board of Health for our county, I felt an urgency to share my concerns about thimerosal with other professionals. I researched, made phone calls, wrote letters, and presented data on elevated levels of mercury in many other children with developmental delays who were also exposed to thimerosal in their vaccines. In 1999, I met several other parents who shared the same concerns about the use of mercury in medical products. Together we wrote a landmark paper linking the symptoms of mercury poisoning to autism.
We’ve been asking the government to get mercury out of vaccines for the last 14 years
In 2000, we formed the non-profit organization SafeMinds. We testified before Congress about the unnecessary exposure to mercury that a generation of children had received from thimerosal-containing vaccines; we shared the scientific evidence linking mercury toxicity to the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. SafeMinds was also instrumental in the development of a Congressional report, “Mercury in Medicine: Are We Taking Unnecessary Risks?”
SafeMinds founders and numerous scientists met with officials from the FDA voicing our concerns about thimerosal.
We had meetings with the CDC asking them to state a preference for thimerosal-free vaccines and authored a letter along with multiple national organizations requesting that the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices state a preference for thimerosal-free vaccines for pregnant women, infants and children as recommended by the Institute of Medicine in their October 2001 Immunization Safety Review on “Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines and Neurodevelopmental Disorders”.
We met numerous times with the National Institutes for Health asking that they begin conducting research on the toxicity of thimerosal and neurodevelopmental impacts.
The meetings that I have attended over the past 14 years were not unlike the meeting that took place on April 9th, 2014 with high officials representing the HHS, the FDA, and the CDC that I attended with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Mark Hyman, M.D. Though this Washington Post article detailing Kennedy’s efforts makes no mention of me, yes, I was there.
At the meeting, Kennedy and Hyman voiced their concerns about the continued use of thimerosal in vaccines. They presented reams of scientific research, research that Laura Helmuth at Slate Magazine ignorantly and wrongly asserts does not exist. I added additional information that I have gathered over the years:
- The introduction of thimerosal into vaccines was based on a single, uncontrolled, and poorly reported human study in the late 1920s. This sole human study was not a true safety study and produced a faulty foundation upon which to build a robust vaccine program where infants would receive multiple doses of ethylmercury repeatedly the first year of life.
- There have been several incidents of contamination of vaccines that contained thimerosal, which suggests it is not as effective a preservative as it has been marketed to be. In fact, the FDA removed thimerosal from over-the-counter products years ago due to concerns regarding effectiveness and safety.
- In addition to its known toxic properties, levels of mercury documented in infants after exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines have been shown to reach levels classified by the CDC as a case of mercury chemical poisoning.
- Monkey studies have shown that the mercury in thimerosal does indeed cross the blood brain barrier and results in significant deposition of inorganic mercury in the brain. Research has documented that inorganic mercury becomes trapped in the brain (the estimated half-life is over 700 days).
- 80 years after the introduction of thimerosal into vaccines, we have hundreds of studies proving the toxicity of thimerosal, but still do not have adequate safety data with regard to using thimerosal in vaccines.
- The only time the data was analyzed correctly looking at completely vaccinated cohort of children getting vaccines containing thimerosal versus children who had received vaccines without thimerosal was by the CDC’s Thomas Verstraten in 1999, which found associations between exposure to vaccines and a host of adverse neurological disorders including ADD/ADHD, speech and language delays, neurodevelopmental delays in general and autism.
During the Kennedy meeting at HHS, one HHS official remarked that vaccines without thimerosal were not as effective as those with thimerosal, which was an interesting comment. What the official was actually acknowledging was that thimerosal was capable of increasing the immune response, which means this mercury-based preservative is also being used as an adjuvant agent in vaccines for which it is not licensed.
Although HHS officials were quick to point out that thimerosal is only being used in flu vaccines, flu vaccines are now recommended for all pregnant women during any trimester of pregnancy (even the first trimester) and twice during an infant’s first year of life, and then annually thereafter. These new recommendations to give flu vaccines during pregnancy means that infants are now being exposed to mercury prenatally during even more critical windows of development. Exposures to mercury during these critical periods of development can disrupt the growth and migration of neurons, with the potential to cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system. The FDA recommends that pregnant women avoid seafood that is known to be high in mercury but urges these same pregnant women to get a mercury-containing flu vaccine, which is completely illogical, especially since the EPA estimates that one in every six women already have levels of mercury in their bodies that could cause neurological harm to their unborn children.
Flu vaccines are not the only source of exposure to thimerosal. According to the CDC’s own materials, thimerosal is still present in other vaccine formulations, including tetanus and meningitis.
And, according to the FDA website, several other mercury based preservatives, in addition to thimerosal, are still being widely used in over 100 other medications including ear and nose drops, nasal sprays, lotions, ointments and even injectable testosterone preparations.
The federal officials listened patiently to Kennedy as they have in other meetings before and promised to look into the issue further. But like all of our previous meetings, that was it.
There has been no formal response indicating that our Federal agencies plan to finally remove mercury from medical products.
The mercury is still in the vaccines, our government is still failing us, Kennedy’s new book details how
Having attended these meeting and witnessed firsthand the passion and resolve that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has to protect our children from unnecessary harm from
mercury, I feel optimistic that if anyone can get the government to pay attention to how we are harming our children, he can. But he needs our help.
What our federal agencies fail to understand, outside of the hundreds of scientific articles that document harm from thimerosal, is the fact that by not stating a preference for thimerosal-free vaccines, they are only further eroding the trust of the American public when it comes to vaccine safety issues.
Many of the documents that were presented to our Federal agencies during the meeting in April are now being made available to the public in Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Mark Hyman, M.D.’s new book Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: Mercury Toxicity in Vaccines and the Political, Regulatory, and Media Failures That Continue to Threaten Public Health, which will be released on August 4, 2014.
This is not about money or personal gain. This is about the health and welfare of our children.
Once we figured out that my son had been poisoned by mercury, we were able to work on getting get it out of his system. It took years of treatment, which included identifying and treating the myriad of underlying medical problems caused by mercury, and detoxification therapy to help his body excrete the mercury bound in his tissues. You would never know it now if you met him today that at age five he could barely speak, had no eye contact, was incredible sensitive to light and sound, and had no feeling in his fingertips. He’s in college now and on the Dean’s list!
We need everyone who is a parent, grandparent, or soon to be parent to read Kennedy and Hyman’s new book in order to better understand the issue and to educate yourself about the dangers of mercury.
Buy a second copy to share with a friend, donate to your local library, or give to your elected officials to spread the word.)
When you talk with your representatives, please encourage them to pass legislation mandating the removal of mercury from all medical products and to put an end to this madness once and for all.
And, finally, we need you to be savvy consumers and to just say no to any medical products, including vaccines, which contain mercury. I’ll be writing more about what you need to know about mercury in prescription drugs in the coming weeks, so check back soon.
The pharmaceutical industry must heed our call. The government must start paying attention and start protecting our children. This should be a no-brainer. How could anyone possibly justify injecting mercury into a pregnant woman or small children?
It’s time for the government to do its job. We need to stop putting poison in our children.
Lyn Redwood, R.N., M.S.N., is co-founder and board member of SafeMinds and cofounder of the National Autism Association. In 2000, she testified before the Government Reform Committee on “Mercury in medicine: Are we taking unnecessary risks?” and in 2003 before a Congressional sub-committee on health. She has published in Neurotoxicology, Molecular Psychiatry, Medical Hypotheses, Mothering Magazine, and Autism-Aspergers Digest; appeared on Good Morning America and the Montel Williams Show; and been interviewed by U.S News and World Report, Wired Magazine, and People. She is prominently featured in David Kirby’s award-winning book, “Evidence of Harm.” Lyn Redwood also served on the Department of Defense Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Program from 2007-2009 and is currently a public member of the National Institutes of Health Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. She was recently awarded the National Autism Association’s Believe Award for her dedication to the autism community.