Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mercury Nuts

John McCain has joined the mercury nut brigade. On Feb. 29, at a town hall meeting in Texas, McCain said that there is "strong evidence" linking the mercury-containing compound thimerosal to the recent rise in autism in the US. Beginning way back in the 1930's, vaccine manufacturers began adding thimerosal to their products as a preservative. When some people began to speculate that there could be problems with the additive, manufacturers discontinued the practice. That was in 1999. However, numerous scientific studies in both Europe and the USA have failed to show any causal connection between thimerosal and autism.

Unfortunately, something of a know-nothing movement has grown up among a lot of the parents of the autistic, blaming their children's condition on the chemical. They have been given a lot of press time too. The actress Jenny McCarthy, who has an autistic son, firmly believes that his condition was caused by vaccination, and she's made herself something of a spokesperson for the position. She's been on the Oprah Winfrey Show, among other venues, and everyone knows that, if Oprah gives something her imprimatur, it must be right. Now, comes John McCain, endorsing this nonsense.

This movement could have tragic consequences. Those parents who are influenced may not be inclined to have their children vaccinated, and that's just short of criminal. Whatever negative consequences there might be to childhood vaccinations, and there are a few, all children should receive them. The positives far outweigh any possible problems. I had measles when I was seven years old, and it caused me to contract mastitis. It wasn't pleasant, but children don't have to worry about that anymore. There's a vaccine for measles. I'm also old enough to remember the fear of polio. There were kids in my school who wore braces after contracting the disease. That is a thing of the past, and we're better off for it.

So, how did this movement come about. I attribute it to ignorance. A number of parents, including McCarthy, noticed that their children began to show the symptoms of autism shortly after receiving their vaccinations. They put two and two together and came up with three. They made the jump from correlation to causation. But just because the onset of autism happens at about the same time as vaccination, that doesn't necessarily imply a causal connection. The fact of the matter is that it is coincidence. Autism tends to show itself at about the same age as when children receive their vaccinations. It's the nature of the condition. Then why has there been an increase in cases of autism in recently years? The most widely accepted opinion is that the medical profession has become better at diagnosing it. I tend to agree with that assessment, at least until other evidence becomes available. In the past, those who were mildly autistic were often just thought of as a bit odd and lacking in social skills. Now they are diagnosed.*

The drug companies and the medical establishment must bear the blame for this sort of phenomenon. They are constantly pushing drugs upon us for conditions that are largely the creation of their marketing departments, conditions like Restless Leg Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.** The FDA has largely abandoned its role as an advocate for the public, and it seems like every few months a drug is being withdrawn because of negative side effects. Is it any wonder that people don't trust what they're told by their doctors?

* Whether or not the condition is over-diagnosed, I can't say, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was. That seems to happen a lot these days, and it's in the interest of the medical establishment to extend the definitions of the conditions they treat. That way the drug companies can sell more product, and those who specialize in treating the various conditions can extend the reach of their specialties.

** Fibromyalgia was discovered and named by a physician in the early 1990's. He has since concluded that he was wrong, and has repudiated his discovery. That hasn't stopped one pharmaceutical company from pushing a drug for its treatment in TV ads.


Blogger David Matthews said...

Good piece.

9:06 PM  

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