Thursday, November 14, 2002

Mark Kleiman writes about the harrowing story of thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine additive that some suspect is responsible for the epidemic of autism that appears to have broken out in California in the 1990s. Republican Congressman Dick Armey has slipped a provision into the new Homeland Security bill that, according to the New York Times, "was apparently intended to protect Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical giant, from lawsuits over thimerosal". All very shocking--until, that is, one checks out the CDC's position on thimerosal....
There is no evidence of harm caused by the minute doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor effects like swelling and redness at the injection site due to sensitivity to thimerosal.
Now, I hold no brief for Dick Armey, and I don't care at all for special-favor clauses being sneaked into important legislation. But in the absence of proper tort reform (and in the presence of widespread hysteria about technology--including lifesaving technologies like vaccines), I would guess that it's more likely that this particular political move will end up saving lives (by impeding the onslaught of tort lawyers and junk-science scaremongers on the practice of universal vaccination) than that it will actually harm anyone.

Of course, I'm no toxicology expert, and if anybody can point me to actual, substantial evidence implicating thimerosal in vaccines as a cause of serious health problems, I'd be interested to hear about it. Perhaps, though, the CDC ought to be informed first.

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