What Causes Autism & Has Science Really Ruled Out Vaccines?

CDC and AAP Says Science Answers the Question But Many Others In Government Don’t Agree

SafeMinds Press Release

Tuesday, October 5 - Monday, Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published an Autism Prevalence Survey conducted in 2007 finding that autism has reached 1 in 91 children; 1 in 58 boys. When will the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics begin to treat the epidemic with the three-alarm emergency status it deserves?


On Friday Health and Human Services and CDC hosted a conference call with various autism advocacy groups to announce the upcoming release of the prevalence survey. In the call HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius stated, “Data confirms autism is an urgent public health challenge and will be a public health priority.” Yet CDC officials on the call claimed they do not know how much of the prevalence is a real increase or simply the result of better methodology, diagnosis, and awareness. Theresa Wrangham, President of SafeMinds says, “Our government can find the source of contaminated spinach in mere days, yet CDC seems unable to determine whether or not the rise in autism is real. CDC denies we are facing a real autism epidemic to cover up the government's systematic refusal to adequately research the environmental causes because such inquiry would certainly have to include scrutiny of of vaccines."

The government's continued denial of the autism epidemic rests on their claims that the sharp rise in autism is mostly likely due to heightened awareness and better diagnosis. However, the growing consensus in the scientific literature is that the behavioral diagnosis of autism is caused by an environmental trigger in genetically at risk children. One study published this year by the U.C. Davis M.I.N.D. Institute found that the increase in autism rates was real and can only be explained by better diagnosis in about 20% of cases. Another, from USC and Vanderbilt stated that the increase can not be attributed strictly to genetics. Both studies state that future efforts should focus on environmental triggers. These studies, as well as a Workshop on Autism and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities for Research sponsored by the Institute of Medicine, represent the latest in a growing body of evidence indicating the need for investigating the role of the environment in autism.

Additionally, the 2004 report on vaccine safety by the Institute of Medicine often cited as exonerating the role of vaccines, specifically left open the potential for environmental triggers, including vaccines by stating "Absent biomarkers, well defined risk factors, or large effect sizes, the committee cannot rule out, based on the epidemiological evidence, the possibility that vaccines contribute to autism in some small subset or very unusual circumstances." The compensation of vaccine injured individuals, with autism, to date demonstrates that there is a question with regard to vaccine safety and highlights the ethical obligation of our government to identify mechanisms of injury as they relate to autism and other conditions compensated.

While the reality of 1 in 91 children with autism is shocking, even more alarming, is the subset of children between ages 6 and 14 immunized during the 1990’s for whom the prevalence is actually 1 in 71 children with an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis. This age group represents children in the U.S. with the highest exposure to thimerosal, the mercury preservative routinely used until CDC, AAP and industry recommended its removal "as soon as possible" from all childhood vaccines in 1999. Despite this recommendation, mercury, one of the most neurotoxic substances on the planet, is still used in most seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines.

Concern over vaccine safety and the use of thimerosal is well established. In fact the Institute of Medicine; Health & Human Service’s own scientific advisory panel, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee; the American Academy of Pediatrics former President Dr. Lou Cooper; and former Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Bernadine Healy all agree that current research is inadequate to demonstrate vaccine safety, as required by law, especially in terms of risk for neurological damage, including autism, in a genetically susceptible subset of the population. Most have made statements in support of a study evaluating health outcomes in vaccinated compared with unvaccinated subjects.

Autism was first described as a condition “markedly and uniquely different from anything described so far;” in the medical literature in a 1943 report of 12 cases by Leo Kanner. It remained rare (1 in 10,000) until the rapid escalation of vaccines beginning in the late 1980's (from 10 shots of 7 antigens in 1983 to 36 shots of 15 antigens). Vaccines are a likely candidate to explain some, if not most of the rise in autism cases and possibly other chronic childhood disorders linked to immune system malfunction. The Federal "Vaccine Court" has been quietly compensating vaccine-caused autism since 1991. SafeMinds Director and Legal Counsel, James Moody stated "It simply cannot be denied that vaccines cause autism. The remaining question is how many children have been injured in our war against infectious disease, and the precise mechanisms of injury, so that vaccine-injured children can have the justice guaranteed them by law."

The total vaccine schedule has never been evaluated for long-term safety in either animals or humans, Despite the 1986 Congressional Mandate for Safer Childhood Vaccines requiring research to reduce vaccine adverse events and the 2006 Combating Autism Act’s legislative history that specifically stated that, “...for the purposes of biomedical research, no research avenue should be eliminated, including biomedical research examining potential links between vaccines, vaccine components, and autism spectrum disorder,” as found in the Colloquy of Sen. Enzi, Santorum, Sen. Kennedy, and Sen. Dodd vaccines role in autism must be investigated, the Government continues to actively block research comparing the health of unvaccinated and vaccinated children to the detriment of public confidence in the immunization schedule.

"It is simply impossible to determine how much autism is caused by vaccines without carefully assessing the prevalence of autism, as well as other chronic conditions, in unvaccinated children," Ms. Wrangham explained. Such studies were called for in the strategic plan for autism research, but Dr. Tom Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health, and CDC blocked the vital research last January. "This research is the only way to resolve the vaccine-autism controversy and determine necessary changes to the vaccine schedule, as well as restore rapidly declining public confidence in vaccines," Ms. Wrangham said, "Sound science must replace the government's policy of willful ignorance."

SafeMinds is a charitable non-profit and leader in funding and advancing the science regarding mercury exposure as it relates to autism. Our expertise extends beyond mercury-related exposures to broader vaccine safety issues, due to many Board Members holding government agency committee positions such as the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, various CDC Vaccine Committees, the Department of Defense Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Program and the National Vaccine Advisory Committee’s Vaccine Safety Working Group.

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Contact: Pamela Felice pfelice@safeminds.org

SafeMinds 404/934-0777