There is a new book by David Kirby, called Evidence of Harm, apparently supportive of the idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism in children. Of course, there is no evidence for this, but that hasn’t stopped the anti-vaxers. Refreshingly, Michael Fitzpatrick, a doctor, parent of an autistic child and author of MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know, has written a critical review of Kirby’s book, entitled Mercury and autism: a damaging delusion. A couple of relevant quotes:
It is true that mercury is potentially toxic to the developing infant brain and that, as babies were given more vaccines, the total dose of mercury received increased (though it remained at trace level, and it has now fallen as immunisation authorities have, in deference to popular anxieties, shifted to non-mercury vaccines). Yet, exhaustive studies, carried out in the USA, the UK and elsewhere, and surveyed by the US Institute of Medicine in an authoritative report last year, have failed to reveal any link between exposure to thimerosal and autism (3). The so-called 'epidemic of autism', which some parents blame on vaccines, is better explained by the increased recognition of the condition among both parents and professionals and by the expansion of diagnostic categories. Though campaigners claim that the symptoms of mercury toxicity are similar to those of autism, on closer inspection, they are quite distinct. Mercury poisoning typically causes an unsteady gait and slurred speech, visual disturbances and numbness in fingers and toes. None of these features is characteristic of autism.
Though the increasingly unpopular drug companies provide a convenient focus for parental anger, there is little evidence to support the wild allegations made by campaigners and no reason why companies should pay damages in relation to unsubstantiated claims. Indeed, the real problem facing the government is supply shortages resulting from the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to continue producing vaccines. For some time an area of low investment and low profitability, vaccine production is increasingly threatened by the climate of risk aversion and litigiousness - as the anti-mercury campaign aptly illustrates.
As well as frightening parents into not vaccinating their kids, the anti-vaxers are frightening corporations, who fear costly and time-consuming lawsuits, from making the stuff anyway. And all because of an ingredient that doesn’t produce symptoms anything like those of the thing they're using to do the frightening.