Home > Science > New study shows no link between thimerosal and autism

New study shows no link between thimerosal and autism

On Monday, September 13, 2010, the journal Pediatrics published the results of a scientific investigation that explored whether mercury exposure, through the vaccine preservative thimerosal, resulted in an elevated risk of autism.  Using a case-control design, this study found no association between thimerosal exposure and autism, autism spectrum disorder, or regressive autism.

This study is unique from previous reports because it interviewed parents and used direct observations of child behavior to identify subgroups of autism, including regressive autism.  All individuals who were included in the study, including those without autism, were screened using a tool called the Social Communication Questionnaire; thus, children with mild adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes that were not diagnosed as autism were not included.  In order to calculate thimerosal exposure, the investigators documented thimerosal exposure through child and maternal medical charts and medical records.  The analysis conducted also controlled for a wide variety of preexisting medical co-morbidities and potential confounding factors that were discussed and agreed upon by an external advisory committee.

No significant increase in risk of autism or regressive autism was observed with elevating levels of thimerosal exposure during any of the four time periods analyzed, including the prenatal period.  The results of this study add to a large body of literature showing that thimerosal is not associated with a higher risk for autism.  Thimerosal has now been removed from childhood vaccinations due to public concern over the preservative. .  Details about the study, including rationale for the adjusted analyses and confounding variables, and additional analyses can be found on the website of the independent agency contracted to conduct the study.

For more information, please read Autism Speaks statement on the vaccines and autism.

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  1. Dawn
    September 15, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Can you please post the actual research paper with references so we can read it?? maybe I’m missing it somewhere on here but I didn’t see it. Thanks :=)

  2. Katie Wright
    September 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Thimerosal has not been removed from all vaccines. It remains in the flu shot and traces still remain in other vaccines. Whomever wrote this should know that. Also Hg is a neurotoxin there is no safe amount. From reading reading this piece one might come to believe mercury is harmless, it isn’t and that is why parents demanded it removed in the first place.

    Those conducting this study had a tremendous amounts of conflicts of interest- again. Many are consultants to vaccine companies. This is why we need independent research. The researchers also recruited aspergers children, thereby diluting the result. Aspergers is not a disease and few parents complain of heavy metal injuries.

    Most importantly- and the statement above should have noted this: people are all different, some have higher tolerances to toxic substances than others. My grandmother smoker nonstop for 40 years and died a natural death, after a healthy life at 89. Does that mean smoking is safe? Poor Christopher Reeve’s wife died of lung cancer, which she believed she contracted from second hand smoke, in her mid 40s. It is difficult to predict how a toxic substance might affect different people. The bottom line is that we should not be taking any chances w/ toxic substances to save a few pennies.

    My son had horrific adverse vaccine reactions, most children do not. Most kids can tolerate a minimal amount of Hg, my son cannot. This study does not prove anything we do not already know. It is time to set the bar higher for vaccine safety research.

    To see meaningful and high quality research on our vaccine schedule I encourage you to read Hewitson’s recent work on colonies of vaccinated and an unvaccinated macque monkeys. She examines not only Hg, but cognitive skills, GI tissue, immune functioning, regression, motor skills, the effect of adjuvants on brain tissue. Better yet NO ONE associated with that study has any financial conflicts of interest.

    • Charlotte
      September 15, 2010 at 11:26 pm

      Thank you so much…very clearly put…so I didn’t have to say it! Thanks also for the Hewitson reference…will look that up.

    • Charlotte
      September 16, 2010 at 12:19 am

      Looked up Hewitson…though her work has been largely criticized, it still focuses on thimerosal as #1 suspect in the search for a cause of autism. Thought you might like to see some more current research being done on the influence that foreign DNA from viral vaccines grown in human cells (aka aborted fetal tissue) may have on humans receiving it. See http://www.soundchoice.org/Images/June_2009__Autism-Vaccines-Contaminating_Aborted_Fetal_DNA.pdf See also their other newsletters http://www.soundchoice.org/education.html I agree with you on the independent research…unfortunately “independent” usually also means “underfunded” and so the research is not up to snuff…still I hate that instead of helping well meaning *moms of autistic children* like Hewitson to get the support she needs, so called “science-minded” folks (ahem… David Gorski of Science Based Medicine – http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=100 – boy that guy likes to hear himself talk) go on and on leveling personal attacks at her instead of actually coming up with solutions or any science of their own. (I love how he makes it so you can’t even comment on his articles, which are apparently so above reproach that he refuses to allow his opponents to challenge him – ahem…coward – and I wonder how much of cut he gets from the pharmaceutical companies?). We need folks who stand nothing to gain leading the research on vaccines…but they need our financial support as well as our advocacy efforts.

  3. Maggie
    September 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    @Dawn, click the link at the end (“independent agency…”). That has full links to the technical reports.

  4. SF
    September 15, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    It is not true that there is no “safe amount” of mercury (Hg). This is very important: There is a (big) difference between ethyl mercury and methyl mercury, just as there is a difference between ethyl alcohol (what you drink in alcoholic beverages like beer) and methyl alcohol (also known as wood alcohol, which will make you go blind). The type of mercury that is in thimerosal is ethyl mercury. The mercury that causes mercury poisoning is methyl mercury, and methyl mercury exposure limits are regulated by the FDA. Methyl mercury is toxic and has serious effects at small doses. Ethyl mercury exists in every person that lives on planet Earth (e.g., through drinking breast milk, through walking in sand). Ethyl mercury is metabolized by people and excreted, unlike methyl mercury, which accumulates in the body. In 1929, there was an outbreak of bacterial meningitis in Indiana, and in an effort to cure patients, adults were injected with 2 million micrograms of thimerosal (10,000 times what children received in vaccines prior to 2002) with no observed bad effects or symptoms of mercury poisoning.

    Yes, Asperger’s disorder is a disorder (or “disease”), just like Autistic disorder, just like Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). All three are medical diagnoses that are given by trained professionals (e.g., psychologist, pediatrician, neurologist, etc). The differences between the 2 disorders (autism and Asperger’s) are (1) the number of criteria (6 criteria or more met in the DSM-IV-TR), (2) a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder requires that there are no significant delays in adaptive or cognitive functioning, or in language. HOWEVER, a child who is diagnosed with autism can also not have a delay in language, if they meet 6 or more criteria. So the presentation of a child with high-functioning autism can be very similar to that of a child with Asperger’s disorder, depending on the number of criteria met. To say that the inclusion of diagnoses of Asperger’s disorder is “diluting” the result is wrong.

    Numerous epidemiological studies with study samples of thousands of children, conducted in different countries have shown that there is no association between vaccines/thimerosal and autism. The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders has stayed steady or climbed despite the removal of thimerosal from most childhood vaccines. Twin and sibling studies have shown that autism has a very strong (complicated) genetic component. Research needs to focus on these genetic factors, as well as other things that lead to susceptibility or an increased risk, instead of on something that’s already been shown not to be associated with autism. I am not saying that vaccines don’t cause adverse effects in some children. I’m just saying that vaccines do not cause autism. The numbers and the research have shown this.

  5. Aunt Sandy
    September 20, 2010 at 12:01 am

    This study is vastly suspect. If this were true why don’t we have 1 in 100 35year old adults walking around with autism? Let’s follow the money trail. Who stands to lose by conducting serious research and finding the cause to this epedimic? Testing under 1000 kids and calling that comparable to the current population of 6.8 billion people just doesn’t make sense. People aren’t garbage. I want to see some real research.

  6. September 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Thimerosal (mercury preservative) was removed from many eye care products years ago and these thimerosal-free products are often labeled “for sensitive eyes”. Why? Because some, not all, people are particularly sensitive and the thimerosal can illicit allergic reactions. Why would thimerosal in vaccines be any different? Should we wait for concrete proof that a link with autism exists? Sigmund Freud, well respected & highly regarded by the scientific community, extolled the “benefits” of cocaine and himself used it much of his life. The truth is, scientific research and data can be and is too often incomplete, misleading, and too easily skewed by those with an agenda (such as profit). Want some examples of medications just in recent years that the FDA approved as “safe” based on presented “solid” research (only to be later recalled/removed from the market for serious safety reasons)? … look up “Rezulin”, “Bextra”, “Vioxx”, “Duract”, “Baycol”, “Seldane”, “Hismanal”, “Propulsid”, “Tequin” … the list goes on and on.

    I’m not saying that vaccines and/or thimerosal absolutely do or can cause autism, because I don’t claim to know either way. But it frightens me when I see headlines that state absolutely “THIMEROSAL-AUTISM LINK DISPROVEN” … this is foolish and dangerous. If any vaccine or the thimerosal contained within cause or contribute to even 1 case of autism per year, more research on any link is needed while a safer, NOT necessarily cheaper, way to manufacture and preserve the vaccines is established. Personally, my opinion has me ask: If adults avoid using thimerosal in their own eyes, why would we inject it via vaccines into out infants and children? Sometimes “science” conflicts with common sense.

    Mark Zulewski

  7. September 30, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Thimerosal (mercury preservative) was removed from many eye care products years ago and these thimerosal-free products are often labeled “for sensitive eyes”. Why? Because some, not all, people are particularly sensitive and the thimerosal can illicit allergic reactions. Why would thimerosal in vaccines be any different? Should we wait for concrete proof that a link with autism exists? Sigmund Freud, well respected & highly regarded by the scientific community, extolled the “benefits” of cocaine and himself used it much of his life. The truth is, scientific research and data can be and is too often incomplete, misleading, and too easily skewed by those with an agenda (such as profit). Want some examples of medications just in recent years that the FDA approved as “safe” based on presented “solid” research (only to be later recalled/removed from the market for serious safety reasons)? … look up “Rezulin”, “Bextra”, “Vioxx”, “Duract”, “Baycol”, “Seldane”, “Hismanal”, “Propulsid”, “Tequin” … the list goes on and on.

    I’m not saying that vaccines and/or thimerosal absolutely do or can cause autism, because I don’t claim to know either way. But it frightens me when I see headlines that state absolutely “THIMEROSAL-AUTISM LINK DISPROVEN” … this is foolish and dangerous. If any vaccine or the thimerosal contained within cause or contribute to even 1 case of autism per year, more research on any link is needed while a safer, NOT necessarily cheaper, way to manufacture and preserve the vaccines is established. Personally, my opinion has me ask: If we avoid using thimerosal in our eyes, why would we inject it via vaccines into our infants and children? Sometimes “science” conflicts with common sense.

    Mark Zulewski

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