MMR: Mercury, the bringer of autism
February 15th 2008, 16:08 | Bryan Hubbard
The MMR-autism debate just isn't letting up, especially in the States where a TV drama has this week jettisoned it back onto the front pages.
The programme, Eli Stone, features a lawyer who wins a $1 million lawsuit for a mother whose child became autistic after having the MMR vaccine.
Doctors have been so concerned by the programme's impact on parents whose children are about to be vaccinated that they have rushed out a study that 'proves' autism is not caused by the vaccine. The study, which was due to be published in an upcoming issue of the medical journal 'Pediatrics', shows that thimerosal, a preservative made with mercury that was regularly used in vaccines until 2001, doesn't stay in the body for any great length of time.
After studying the 'before' and 'after' blood samples of 216 babies who were vaccinated, the researchers found that the mercury levels in the babies' blood lowered after a few weeks, and fell to a level that was just one-tenth of that predicted in earlier studies.
Underlining the significance of the study, leading autism expert Dr Nancy Minshew has given a "one hundred per cent assurance" to America's parents that vaccinations don't cause autism. "I think the issue is done," she told reporters.
I can only assume that Dr Minshew hasn't had the time to read another study, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, which has discovered a definitive link between mercury and autism. By re-analysing the data from another emphatic study published in 2004, Catherine DeSoto from the University of Northern Iowa has discovered a basic mistake in the calculations.
"A significant relation does exist between the blood levels of mercury and diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder," she writes.
Not surprisingly, she found that the mercury doesn't affect all children in the same way. The most vulnerable were those children who were least efficient at removing mercury - and it could be that none of the children in the latest study had under-performing immune systems.
Perhaps Dr Minshew might like to bring down her 100 per cent guarantee a point or three.