Monday, February 9, 2009

The Thiomersal Controversy

UPDATE: With the recent fallout regarding Andrew Wakefield, Autism Speaks has, quite sensibly, changed focus somewhat, so the original wording of this post may no longer reflect AS's stance on the issue. I've been intending to give this update earlier, but didn't get around to it. However, as my Secrets of Success post has now been featured on the official Facebook channel for Autism Speaks, I'm noticing a significant uptick in traffic, and figured I'd better get around to the update!

Some interesting developments in the autism world, especially with regard to the immunization controversy. Last month a top executive at a major autism group called “Autism Speaks” resigned over a disagreement with the group. A major component of AS's focus is fighting against immunizations due to concerns about thiomersal. The group's VP of Communications, Alison Singer, says that copious scientific research into the subject has shown that there is no causal link between thiomersal and autism. She feels that AS ought to stop putting so much effort into the immunization fight and redirect those energies into more promising avenues. The other AS execs, however, appear to be too invested in the fight to give it up, and so they and Singer parted ways.

Shortly afterward, the findings of a new study were released. A group of 1,403 children who had received thiomersal in their vaccines ten years ago were evaluated and found not to have any significant decrease in neurological function when compared to children who had not been exposed to thiomersal.

Now it's been discovered that the original research about the MMR immunization may have been falsified to show a link to autism. Evidence presented by the UK's General Medical Council shows that the data presented in Dr. Andrew Wakefield's report on the original study on the MMR vaccine are not supported by the medical records of the patients used in the study, and ten of the original thirteen contributors to the study have retracted their interpretations of the findings since its publication. Many patients' symptoms which were blamed on the MMR vaccine appear to have been reported before the vaccine had even been administered. The original study only involved a dozen children, which is not even close to a large enough sample to give any confidence to the results.

The 1998 report resulted in a significant drop in the administration of the MMR vaccine to children in the UK, resulting in a 24-fold increase in measles cases in 2008 compared to 1998, two of which resulted in death. It is believed that Wakefield may have falsified the results of the study due to a conflict of interest because the children used in the study had been recruited through an attorney preparing a lawsuit against MMR vaccine manufacturers, and the hospital where the study was performed had received £55,000 to pay for the research. Wakefield and his colleagues deny allegations of professional misconduct.

More autism news, apart from the thiomersal controversy. Multiple states are considering legislation that would require insurance providers to cover diagnosis and proven treatments for autism. Utah's bill, popularly known as Clay's Law, would require a maximum annual benefit of $50,000 for children under 9 and $25,000 for children between 9 and 17. If passed, the bill would go into effect on July 1, 2010. From a purely financial standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to spend money on early intervention treatments for autism. Autism therapy can be very expensive, and many families descend into poverty to pay for it and become burdens on the state. Additionally, a child recovered through treatment can financially contribute to society instead of drawing from it for the rest of their lives.

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