Thimerosal and Autism: Myth or Fact
The concept of vaccination is not new. Ancient cultures in Asia and the Middle East have used the concept of vaccination for centuries to prevent illness. With any kind of medical advancement comes valuable questioning about its risks and side effects. Vaccines were not different and the biggest concern is whether or not the additive thimerosal used in vaccines causes autism.
Edward Jenner is often seen as the man who brought modern vaccination to the western world. Edward Jenner became famous when he invented the first vaccine for the smallpox virus. He made this discovery, in part, by observing the effects of cowpox on milkmaids. The Latin work for cow is vacca which is where we get the term vaccine (Riedal 21-25). This method saved millions of lives and helped to progress the idea of vaccination the population to prevent them from contracting a disease. Vaccines work in a variety of ways but they all have one thing in common. Vaccines allow the body to create and store antibodies to the specific antigen found in many diseases. This process enables the body to be able to recognize the foreign substance very quickly and activate the immune response. This immune response will most often render the virus unable to make the individual its host and survive. Since the late 1700s when Edward Jenner introduced his vaccine, the world has dedicated countless hours and finances to developing vaccinations for some of the world's deadliest diseases. This research continues today, but there is a growing theory that the new modern vaccines we use today are causing those who are vaccinated to suffer permanent damage and be diagnosed with autism.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders IV defines autism as "A pervasive development disorder in which there is the presence of markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication, and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interest." This condition has varying degrees of symptoms. As autism has become better understood and diagnosed they are categorized as being an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ASD. Some common symptoms of ASD are avoiding eye contact when interacting with others, a need for order or repetition based environments, and even a lack of normal social emotion (DSM-IV 299.00). With better diagnostic tools and criteria the CDC estimates that one in 150 children age 8 and under are diagnosed with some from of an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that has been added to vaccines since the 1930s. It was added to vaccines to prevent bacteria from growing inside the vaccine itself. If bacteria grows in a vaccine and then it is used on someone it could cause additional illness or even death depending on the nature of the bacteria contaminating the vaccine. The theory that thimerosal was having negative and permanent side effects on children is more than 30 years old. This concern stems from the fact that thimerosal is mercury based. This concern caused the FDA in 1997 to pass the Modernization Act, which caused thimerosal to be removed from all child-based vaccines with the exception to a few flu virus vaccines. This act was passed so the effects of mercury-based preservatives could be further valuated for their safety and for the rate at which the human body is able to expel the mercury. In 1997, prior to the passing of the Modernization Act, all children were scheduled to receive three vaccines containing thimerosal by the age of 6 months. The total amount given over the six months totaled a maximum of 187.5 micrograms. These values exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's standard for allowed exposure. It should be noted however, that this value is below what the FDA allowed for consumption in food. As of today the maximum amount allowed in any one vaccine is 25 micrograms per dose and of the six vaccines still containing thimerosal half are flu vaccines.
Thimerosal contains a type of mercury. Mercury is a naturally occurring element in nature and can be found in soil, water, and the earth's crust. Mercury is classified as a heavy metal and also as a neurotoxin. A neurotoxin is a substance that inhibits, damages, or destroys tissue of the nervous system. The effects of neurotoxins are often permanent and can be fetal. As heavy metals like mercury build up in the body they can become nephrotoxins, which damage the kidneys. These toxins cause cells not to be able to produce energy to survive and end up killing the tissue. The body breaks thimerosal down into two components. One is called ethyl mercury. Ethyl mercury is not the same as methyl mercury but the FDA uses the methyl mercury values for toxicity, as it is more dangerous. Ethyl mercury is the same type of mercury compound found in seafood.
The mercury contained in thimerosal prevents the formation of bacteria and allows for the use of multi-dose vials of certain vaccines. The most common source through vaccines is in the flu vaccine. Flu vaccines are often given from multi-dose vials where each dose contains 25 micrograms of thimerosal. It should be noted that the vaccines do not contain 25 micrograms of mercury but of the preservative that is mercury-based. The World Health Organization conducted a survey of ethyl mercury poisoning due to exposure or suicide attempt and found that it was lethal or resulted in neurological effects in quantities ranging from 0.5-83 milligrams. There are 1,000 micrograms in one milligram so the current vaccines in use have a quantity at least 20 times less than those seen to have negative effects and as high as 3,320 times less than quantities in extreme cases.
In order to test the theory that thimerosal is linked to autism many scientists and organizations conducted numerous studies. One study tested populations in Sweden and Denmark where thimerosal was removed for all vaccines. In this study the children had no exposure to thimerosal through vaccination and yet the incidence of autism were higher than when thimerosal was used as a preservative (Stehr-Green 101-106). This study produced an unbiased conclusion based on the results from the research. Data from these kinds of studies is not subjective. The data reports in whole values with no interpretation needed. This study goes to disprove the theory that thimerosal is linked to increased autism rates. Autism rates continue to go up as medical professionals have become better at diagnosing and recognizing this disorder. The theory of thimerosal causing autism may also be fueled by the lack of education on the general public of what autism is. As the autism spectrum has expanded to include more symptoms and disorders more children are being diagnosed with one of the disorders on the autism spectrum and labeled as autistic in the general public. Dr. Jeffry Gerber who is a researcher that has studied the effects of vaccines on neurological disorders has said "A worldwide increase in the rate of autism diagnoses-likely driven by broadened diagnostic criteria and increased awareness-has fueled concerns that an environmental exposure like vaccines might cause autism. Theories for this putative association have centered on the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, thimerosal, and the large number of vaccines currently administered. However, both epidemiological and biological studies fail to support these claims." Dr. Gerber also conducted a study to determine if multiple vaccines at once increase incidence of disease or illness. His study concluded that, not only was there no link between thimerosal and autism but that multiple shots given at once do not increase a child's risk or decrease the ability of their immune system to function normally (Gerber 456-461). Thimerosal has also been tested to discover if it has any negative effects other than those that are theorized to cause autism. The study was conducted to see if the exposure to thimerosal lead to increased cases of any neurological or psycho-neurological disorders. The findings of this study were not able to produce a link between exposure to thimerosal and any neurological disorder (Thompson, Price, Goodson 1281-1292). All of these studies and many more work to disprove the theory that thimerosal exposure through vaccination will increase the risk of being diagnosed with autism or with any other neurological disorder. These studies were conducted objectively to prove or disprove a hypothesis. The results are not open to interpretation and the conclusions were all the same. There is an increase in awareness and overall media communication due to the birth of social media applications. These applications have allowed many people to state their opinion or to restate something they think is a fact, however, often times the people making these claims have little or no background in scientific research and cannot speak on principle of ethos to the subject matter. Jenny McCarthy is an outspoken celebrity on the topic of autism and vaccinations and has been quoted as saying "I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son. Why aren't there any tests out there on the safety of how vaccines are administered in the real world, six at a time?
Why have only two of the 36 shots our kids receive been looked at for their relationship to autism?" This kind of quote can lead people who enjoy her work as an entertainer to assume her statements are facts. Unfortunately, multiple studies have been done on the safety of vaccine administration, which makes her statement false. A vaccine cannot be administered until is have passed years of research showing it is safe and only then will the FDA allow it to become available to the public. Additionally, the CDC recommends a total of 18 shots to be given between birth and 18 years of age. Some of them have multiple administrations but there is no recommendation based on science to give any child 36 different shots. This kind of rhetoric can lead to thousands of people thinking shots are harmful and should be avoided.
The theory that shots are harmful is becoming more popular and it is starting to have very significant affects on the population. In 2014 the CDC reported that there were more cases of measles in the United States than there has been since 1995. There were 288 cases reported in 2014 and 280 or 97% of those cases came from individuals who had either travelled to or immigrated from countries that do not have wide-spread vaccination programs for its population. Measles is not a fear disease here in the United States due to advances in medicine. It is very unlikely that someone will die from measles in the United States but globally over 100,000 people die annually from the disease (WHO 2014). The outbreak in the United States can be linked to people who were not vaccinated against the disease. The measles vaccine does not contain any amount of thimerosal and yet due to rhetoric produced my media applications people fear getting vaccines of any kind. When the statistics are examined for a vaccine that does contain thimerosal the results are even worse. Thimerosal is still used in allowed quantities in some multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine. For this reason many people decide not to get any sort of the flu vaccine due to misinformation that all vaccines contain harmful antigens. In 2014 the World Health Organization reported over 100 children died from the flu virus in the United States while at the same time reporting that of the millions of people vaccinated only two deaths were reported to be directly caused by a reaction to the flu vaccine. More than 3.5 million people a year will contract some strain of the flu virus and of those people 250,000-500,000 will die as a result. The flu virus still kills thousands of people every year all over the world. Many of these deaths occur in countries where the flu vaccine is not available. The vaccine and modern medicine are what accounts for some of the lowest mortality rates of the flu in the United States.
There is always a risk that is associated with any type of medical treatment or intervention. There are no guarantees in medicine. Doctors act and treat based on research that shows the risk is very minimal and the benefit could be life saving. Dr. Sarah Long published an article in the Journal of Pediatrics stating "Many well-meaning parents have unfounded fears that their young children are exposed to too much immunologic stimulation through vaccines. Some then take the real risk of under immunizing their children or insisting on schedules that are unstudied for efficacy and safety." In her article she also concludes by saying "Pediatricians should be informed. Parents should be informed. When science "speaks", it should be loud and clear and should trump the fear of the unknown." Many parents are placing their children and others at risk by not having them vaccinated against many diseases. Most of the vaccines children are given never contain any form of mercury like that found in the preservative thimerosal. After countless studies the scientific community stands firm in its affirmation that vaccines with thimerosal and without show no causal relationship to autism or any other neurological disorder. If this trend continues without parents and the population in general being informed of its unfounded claims then the rates of disease will continue to rise and the death toll will rise with them. Science is not a subjective topic and the research shows thimerosal is not linked to autism in any way and the fear that is generated around vaccines is unfounded and false.
I would like feed back on my three weakest points in this paper based on my writing style and composition and not on the research.
BECAUSE OF YOUR WRITING TO BULKY, you should make a space/GAP among of the SENTENCES. AT FIRST GLANCE, to be honest as a reader, I lose my interest to read your prompt. WHILE I AGREE WITH SOME ARGUMENTS which you deliver, I still found a few mistake in your writing Anyway. HERE Let's look further in your essay.
Thimerosal contains a type of mercury
. Mercury is a WHICH naturally occurring element in nature. This item ]and can be found in soil, water, and the earth's crust.
A neurotoxin is a substance that inhibits, damages
, or destroys tissue of the nervous system. The effects of neurotoxins are often permanent and can be fetal FATAL.
Ethyl mercury is not the same as methyl mercury, YOU MISSING COMA in YOUR COMPOUND SENTENCES, but the FDA uses the
methyl mercury WITHOUT SPACE methylmercury values for toxicity, as it is more dangerous.
Taylor, as much as you mentioned that you don't want a critique on the research as a whole,
I must say that the research is done quiet well, I believe you will insert the citation at the end
of the paper but it will also help if you will write essay on a parenthesis and incorporate it in the
I see that you have a few contributors that modified your paper already and I believe the enhancements are
necessary to strengthen your paper.
On the writing skills, you have written the paper quiet well, the presentation of the essay is good,
the paragraphs are not segmented nor lengthy and the information that you have in the research are gathered
properly, theories, practical applications and the thing that stood as I proof read your essay is that you had
an introduction that serves it's purpose, an introduction to the study and the final paragraph is your personal input.
I hope you my insights help and keep up the good job!!!