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Congressional Hearing- The Relationship between Mercury in the Environment and Vaccinations

The predominant topic of the congressional hearing was the role vaccinations may play in increasing the prevalence of autism. Specifically, the effects of mercury, which is present in thimerosal, a preservative used in some vaccines and other products since the 1930’s,2 was discussed in relation to how the neurotoxin can affect the development of infants before, during, and after pregnancy. Rep. Dan Burton spearheaded the discussion on the presence of mercury in vaccines, alluding to the past dangers associated with mercury in thermometers, warnings towards pregnant women concerning eating fish containing mercury, and denounced the continual use of thimerosal in multi-dose vaccines despite the known dangers associated with mercury. Burton, who has a grandson that began to show signs of autism shortly after receiving his inoculations, made several arguments against the use of thimerosal in vaccinations. During the hearing, he presented a video demonstration of research from the University of Calgary that illustrated new findings that “reveal important visual evidence as to how mercury causes neurodegeneration. More importantly, the study provides the first direct evidence that low-lying mercury exposure is indeed a precipitating factor that can initiate [the] neurodegenerative process within the brain.”3 (50:00) The Congressman continued to express his revulsion to the fact that thimerosal has not been thoroughly tested and explained that children receive upwards of 30 or more vaccines before the first grade, and often several in one visit to the doctor. Furthermore, members of the CDC and FDA have previously testified that there is no “conclusive” evidence that mercury in vaccinations cause neurological disorders, but that word, according to Burton’s opinion, casts a shadow of doubt that should raise the concerns of those administering the vaccinations and the families who receive them.1 Burton continues his opening remarks with a plea to remove mercury from vaccinations, by exclaiming that pharmaceutical companies need to “air on the side of safety” by reverting to single shot vials, which do not contain mercury.1 Finally, he mentioned the difficulties families have related to obtaining any money from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund. In response to Burton’s remarks, Dr. Boyle stated that “since 2001, thimerosal has been removed from all vaccines given to children, with the exception of the multi-vile flu vaccine.” 1 (58:00) When asked why thimerosal was taken out of the single dose vials and not multi dose vials as well, Boyle, who is admittedly not an expert on vaccines, seemed unsure as to why this is the case, stating that “multi use vials are needed in a certain context from an international or global perspective, but I will clarify that for you.”1 By this final statement, Dr. Boyle means she will add this clarification to the congressional record for this hearing when she has the precise information.

Later in the proceedings, Rep. Bill Posey continued a line of questioning that demonstrated the ineptitude of the CDC in regards to investigating the safety of vaccinations. (1:39) Boyle states that a number of studies have been conducted regarding the relationship between thimerosal and vaccines, and although she was unsure of the exact number the CDC has conducted she was able to confirm that the CDC has at led two studies that looked at the role of vaccines.1 The first study looked at various neurological disabilities while the second focused solely on autism. The CDC has not, however, specifically conducted studies associated with the rates of autism diagnosis between unvaccinated and vaccinated populations. Posey goes on to criticize the CDC for their work with Dr. Poul Thorsen, who was a co-investigator on several studies and “a leading member of a Danish research group that wrote several key studies supporting the CDC’s claims that the MMR vaccine and mercury-laden vaccines were safe for children.”4 Posey, who described Thorsen as “one of the most wanted men on Earth,” was involved in massive fraud and is believed to have forged documents to steal upwards of $2 million that was supposedly spent on research.4 The CDC’s relationship with Dr. Thorsen was rather extensive according to Posey, who entered into the record information that indicated Dr. Thorsen had been involved with 21 CDC studies.1 (2:16)

Another issue brought up concerning the relationship between autism and vaccines concerned the United States’ vaccination schedule. The current vaccine schedule requires children to receive many vaccines in a short period of time. For example, Rep. Carolyn Maloney points out that “in the state of New York children are recommended to get 6 shots every 2 month throughout the first year of a child.” (VIDEO) (2:00) When asked why the vaccine schedule forces children to receive several shots at one time, Dr. Boyle responded “there is a Federal Advisory Committee that determines the vaccination schedule…The reason they cluster the vaccines is really to make sure that everybody gets it….We are trying to make sure vaccines go to all children and not everybody goes to the doctor routinely so [the doctors] use that opportunity to make sure that happens.”1 Rep. Vern Buchanan also points out that children in the United States are required to receive 2 to 3 times more vaccines than children in other developed countries and that research has not been thoroughly conducted to test the possible harmful effects that could occur from a combination of vaccines.1 (2:04).

The topic of thimerosal in vaccines was certainly a major theme of the congressional hearing, but other members of Congress were equally concerned with the role mercury in the environment may have on the increasing prevalence of autism. Rep. Dennis Kucinich cited a study that states “the burning of coal is the single largest anthropogenic source of mercury air emissions having more than tripled since 1970. Coal burning for power generation is increasing alongside economic growth. The releases from power plants and industrial boilers represent today roughly a quarter of the mercury releases into the atmosphere.”1 (1:10). The importance of this is highlighted in the citation of Kucinich’s next study, conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which found a “statistically significant link between pounds of industrial release of mercury and increased autism rates. The study pointed out that community autism prevalence was reduced by 1 to 2 percent with each ten miles of distance from the pollution source.”1 Due to these findings and the amount of coal burning that has been undertaken by our nation in the last decade, Kucinich recommended that an additional study be funded to confirm this fact. Kucinich went so far as to suggest that there are pharmaceutical companies, coal companies and like-minded “special interest groups who would resist any deeper research on [vaccines] because it is going to affect their bottom line,”1 (23:00) have worked to prevent this research. The evidence presented by congress and the panel members, not to mention the groans and cheers of the audience on several occasions, made it clear that more research into how mercury and other environmental factors are contributing to the rise of incidence of autism spectrum disorders is needed.