Mercury in childhood vaccines: what did the government know? By VALERI WILLIAMS / WFAA-TV DALLAS For decades, half of all childhood vaccines contained a chemical preservative called Thimerosal. It is made from mercury, one of the most poisonous substances on Earth. News 8 has spent the past three months investigating claims that government regulators and some pharmaceutical companies knew of the dangers, but never told the public. From the outset, it must be stressed that this report is not anti-vaccination. Every person interviewed for this story believes in the importance of having children immunized. Rather, the focus is on the possible link between Thimerosal and neurological disorders. Before the 1990s, 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. But in the past decade, as the government has increased the number of mandatory vaccines, some recent studies suggest the rate of autism has risen to 1 in about 250 children. Some say the cause may be mercury poisoning. From the day that little Jac Counter was born in 1996, his proud parents began documenting his progress with a video camera. There was the first tooth, the first bowl of spaghetti, and the first steps. But among all the precious images of their baby boy, there was another "first" that the Counters unknowingly recorded on video. And that, they say, was the beginning of Jac's descent into "mercury-induced autism." On one of the tapes, at 22 months, Jac verbalized playfully with his father. Jac's parents say by the age of 4, however, he had lost all his verbal skills. Communication became a series of screams and tantrums. And there was other odd, compulsive behavior, like constant repetitive movements and licking many objects. It was a urine test for 15 toxic metals that provided Joe and Theresa Counter with the first indication of what was wrong with their son. The test showed that Jac's levels for arsenic, cadmium and nickel were normal or within an acceptable range. But as far as the results for mercury were concerned, the line goes off the chart. Experts report that patients with mercury poisoning or autism share many of the same symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive behavior and loss of speech. Jac's only possible encounter with sizable amounts of mercury, say the Counters, is through his vaccines. "It's not that any one shot (did it)," father Joe Counter said. "The Thimerosal or the mercury in one of my son's vaccinations - well, he didn't get one shot, he got 30 shots or whatever, or however many he got. And it was the cumulative affect that, at some point, his body said, 'Stop it, I can't take this any more.' " The Counters, who live in Plano, became the first family in the nation to file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies who put Thirmerosal in their vaccines. Since last year, another 50 families with autistic children in 8 states have filed suit as well. Medical files obtained by News 8 for at least five of the children show excessively high levels of mercury, just like Jac Counter. So how much mercury are we talking about? Approximately 12 out of the 18 vaccine doses the average American child receives before the age of two contain Thimerosal. Cumulatively, that's more than 200 micrograms of mercury, which would fit on the head of a pin. According to the EPA, dropping that pin-head of mercury into 23 gallons of water would make it unsafe for human consumption. "Think about the idea of injecting your own child with levels of mercury that are thirty to forty times what's considered safe for an adult," Dallas attorney Andy Waters said. "And, I think if any human being thinks about that very long, they recognize that this is something that never should have happened." Waters represents the Counters, as well as other families in the lawsuits. News 8 took some of his firm's research on Thimerosal to several top experts for their opinions. Dr. Boyd Haley is the Chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky. He's one of the nation's leading experts on mercury poisoning and has studied Thimerosal in vaccines. Thimerosal "is one of the most toxic compounds I know of," Haley said. "I can't think of anything that I know of is more lethal." Dr. Jane Siegel is a professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern in Dallas. For the past five years, Siegel has sat on the government vaccine committee that decides which vaccines are mandatory for children. "I believe there is no data thus far that's been looked at to prove that there's a connection - that there's a causitive relationship," Siegel said. But just two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did conduct a study, which showed that three-month-old babies exposed to just 63 micrograms of mercury - less than half of the aforementioned pin top - were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop autism. The study is stamped "Confidential" and "Do Not Copy or Release." Siegel says it was never made public because it was just a draft. "Until they're final, and are ready for publication, they're always considered a draft, not to be widely distributed," Siegel said. "This preliminary information could be distributed, and that could do harm." So why was it marked 'Confidential, Do Not Release', rather than a simple 'Draft'? "I think we're mincing words," Siegel said. Subsequently, the CDC did release a report to the public, but the findings were much different. The new study was amended with different data which lowered the autism rate. Dr. Sidney Baker has reviewed both reports. Baker has authored six medical books, and written scores of articles on childhood behavior and autism. Baker is critical of the CDC study. "I can't imagine that smart people could possibly have re-arranged the data the way they were done, and represented the data the way they were done, without doing it on purpose and with the express purpose, as you say, of a coverup," Baker said. Baker treats hundreds of autistic patients each year from around the country. He suspects that about half of the children he sees have been affected by Thimerosal from their vaccines. Baker said the CDC's refusal to release raw data from the study for outside experts to evaluate - a standard protocol in medical research - is helping to fuel the controversy. To parents like the Counters, that is unforgiveable. "It doesn't matter that 95% or 98%, or whatever the percentage of the kids - somehow their system is able to take in a particular metal - in this case, mercury - and flush it out," Counter said. "My kid couldn't, and it wreaked havoc on his system. "It fried his wires." Under pressure from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, pharmaceutical companies agreed to stop manufacturing vaccines containing Thimerosal in March 2001. But while production may have ceased, vaccine vials already containing Thimerosal were not recalled. A very simple solution for parents worried about upcoming shots for children is to ask your doctor ahead of time for Thimerosal-free vaccines. Tuesday night, the News 8 investigation continues with what the government, and at least one pharmaceutical company, knew 30 years ago about Thimerosal's dangers - and didn't tell the public. (Also Online) Thimerosal VSD Study - Phase I http://www.wfaa.com/img/05-02/cdc.pdf FDA Thimerosal report http://www.fda.gov/cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm Safeminds.org http://www.safeminds.org/ CDC Thimerosal information http://www.cdc.gov/nip/vacsafe/concerns/thimerosal/faqs-availfree.htm Institute of Medicine - Thimerosal page http://www.iom.edu/IOM/IOMHome.nsf/Pages/ISR+thimerosal Autism Research Institute http://www.autismresearchinstitute.com/ Part 2 of this report http://www.wfaa.com/localnews/investigates/stories/wfaa020521_am_vaccine2.b7 e9f53.html) Vaccines that contained Thimerosal * DTaP: Tripedia (Pasteur Merieux Connaught), Acel-Immune (Wyeth-Ayerst), Certiva (North American Vaccine) * Td: All Products * DTaP-Hib: TriHIBit (Aventis Pasteur) * Hib: HibTITER multidose (Wyeth-Ayerst), ProHIBit (Aventis Pasteur) * Hib/HepB: COMVAX (Merck) * HepB: EngerixB (Glaxo-Smith Kline), RecombivaxHB (Merck) Mercury in childhood vaccines: What did the government know? It's a question that has divided doctors, parents and government scientists for more than a decade: Do childhood vaccines or additives cause neurological damage? Next month, a congressional committee will hear testimony on the subject. A California university has a huge government grant to research it. And the possible link has been the focus of a three-month News 8 Investigation. At the center of the investigation: a preservative put into many vaccines. It's called Thimerosal, and it's made from mercury, the second most toxic metal known to man. Uranium is the most toxic. For years, Thimerosal has been extremely controversial because there were alternatives to preventing vaccine contamination. And, questions remain about how pharmaceutical companies conduct vaccine research and how the government regulates those companies. Centuries ago, the shimmering properties of mercury captivated the philosopher Aristotle, who called it "quicksilver" - and the name stuck. Perhaps the best visual example of what low-levels of mercury can do to the brain is seen in a videotaped experiment by scientists at the University of Calgary. "Over the next thirty minutes, the neurite membrane underwent rapid degeneration, leaving behind the denuded neurofibrils seen here," the narration on the tape said. "In contrast, other heavy metals added to this concentration - such as aluminum, lead, cadmium and manganese - did not produce this effect." Starting in the early nineties, government regulators dramatically increased the amount of Thimerosal exposure to babies by adding two new vaccines to the roster of mandatory immunizations children must have before enrolling in school. The combination of the Hepatitis B vaccine and the HiB vaccine more than doubled the amount of mercury children like Jac Counter received before the age of two. Jack's parents say today, at age five, he has been diagnosed as having "mercury-induced autism". "If you take a ten-pound baby in, and it gets four shots on that one day, which is a common practice - that's equivalent to giving a 100-pound person forty shots in one day," said mercury expert Dr. Boyd Haley. Haley has testified before Congress and the Pentagon as one of the nation's leading experts on Thimerosal and mercury poisoning. The research he's done at the University of Kentucky leads him to believe that some children are genetically predisposed to storing mercury in their brains. It's the cummulative effect of the mercury which Haley and other scientists say leads to neurological disorders, including autism. However, members of the government's vaccine committees, like Dr. Jane Siegel, insist the proof isn't there. Under pressure from the American Academy of Pediatrics, these government committees ordered pharmaceutical companies to stop putting Thimerosal in vaccines by March 2001. "The topic was researched, it was reviewed, (with) no data to prove a causitive role," Siegel said. "Nevertheless, a call for Thimerosal removal was made. Within two months of the publication of that statement, the Hepatitis B vaccine for infants was free of Thimerosal. Within 18 months, there was on the market all Thimerosal-free vaccine. "I think this is an incredible achievement." But did the government really move fast enough to protect America's children? After all, Thimerosal had been used in vaccines since the 1930s. Documents obtained in a lawsuit show that the government began asking questions about the compound's saftey in 1972. Eli Lilly, which holds the patent on Thimerosal, assured the FDA in a report that "a series of 22 human subjects" were injected with a one-percent solution "without ill effect". Attorney Andy Waters said what the pharmaceutical giant concealed from the government is that the tests were conducted in 1929 by a young researcher named K.C. Smithburn - on patients dying of mennigitis. "It's apparent that Lilly didn't want to do the study themselves because it's apparent that there were enormous ethical problems with injecting people - even people dying of meningitis - with mercury," Waters said. "What Smithburn did was wrong, because he agreed to do the study for Lilly, and not only did he agree to do it, but he agreed to give them results that he knew were flawed. "They knew, and he knew, (the results) were going to be published as the truth." The FDA questioned Thimerosal's safety again in 1982 - this time, noting that it was "not safe for 'over-the-counter' topical use because of its potential for cell damage". Despite that evidence, however, the government regulatory committees did nothing to question its use in childhood vaccines. Meanwhile, measures were taken to remove the compound from pet innoculations. More internal company documents and memos show that Eli Lilly began revising its claims about Thimerosal starting in the 1960s, changing package inserts from stating "non-toxic" to "non-irritating to body to issue". Then, in November 1973, the company's legal division suggested adding the statement: "Do not use when aluminum may come in contact with treated skin". Aluminum is a compound added to many vaccines as a catalyst. But even with this warning, the government committees did nothing. Haley said any good biochemist knows that Thimerosal and aluminum react dangerously when combined together. He showed News 8 the results of his experiments on human brain neurons. "If we add this level of aluminum that we see very little toxicity with to this level of Thimerosal, we get this bottom line ... indicating that we have dramatically enhanced the toxicity, where within 24 hours essentially all of the neurons are dead," Haley said. Officials at Eli Lilly declined to interview with News 8. However, they did send an e-mail, which said in part that the company's "primary concern is for patient safety". The e-mail also stated that "Lilly discontinued its sale or use of (Thimerosal) about ten years ago". However, that did not stop other pharmaceutical companies from taking over the production of the vaccine preservative. In December 1999, shortly before Eli Lilly quit producing thimerosal, the company changed its packaging insert again. This time, Lilly warned that Thimerosal was "toxic". Additionally, it stated that effects of exposure may include "fetal changes, decreased offspring survival, and lung tissue changes". However, the government's vaccine committee continues to insist that Thimerosal has never been dangerous to American children. So, the 1999 Eli Lilly package insert was shown to Dr. Jane Siegel for her reaction: "I cannot comment on this unless I have clarification," Siegel said. "You will have to interview the public. I don't know - I just know that if you show me this piece of paper I cannot make a comment on this - I find it uninterpretable." Haley said the government should have taken action. "There should have been an immediate recall of the vaccine," Haley said. "We would do that with an automobile if it had a bad brake system. If we just suspected it had a bad brake system, they would do that. The government has no problems - they'd do it immediately." The congressional hearing on the use of Thimerosal in vaccines begins in June. While production of the preservative was stopped a year ago, as Dr. Haley pointed out, existing doses were not recalled. Now, it needs to be re-stated that the easiest solution for parents who are concerned about upcoming immunizations is to simply ask your doctor in advance for Thimerosal-free vaccines. NOTE: Chelation (pronounced "kee-lay-shun") is a controversial process that detoxifies the body of heavy metals, such as mercury. Many parents of autistic children strongly advocate the procedure. However, many physicians and the FDA question its effectiveness. The following weblinks provide more information and a diversity of opinions on chelation. Also Online List of links about Mercury and Chelation therapy http://www.isn.net/~jypsy/mercvacc.htm Views against Chelation Therapy http://autism.about.com/library/weekly/aa010901b.htm Treatment options http://home.san.rr.com/autismnet/treatment.html Chelation Therapy - Online forum http://www.network54.com/Hide/Forum/103937 Part 1 of this report http://www.wfaa.com/latestnews/stories/wfaa020520_am_vaccine.666583b.html Tips for Parents Q: How can I be sure my child is receiving a thimerosal free vaccine? A: Ask your pediatrician. If you are concerned your child's vaccine may contain thimerosal, call your doctor's office ahead of your child's scheduled visit and request Thimerosal-free inoculations. One sure sign of a thimerosal free vaccine is a single dose vial as opposed to a multi-dose vial. Q: Do vaccines still contain thimerosal? A: Beginning in March 2001, thimerosal was no longer added as a preservative to childhood vaccines though none were recalled. Some are still in circulation. You can also ask to see the vial and package insert to check for yourself. Q: What if my child exhibits some signs or symptoms of autism? A: Consult your doctor. Many symptoms of autism are also symptoms of other childhood disorders like ADD and ADHD. If your child does exhibit some autistic behavior, it does not mean an automatic diagnosis. Q: What if my child received vaccines which contained thimerosal? A: If you are concerned that your child has been adversely affected by thimerosal, they can be tested for the levels of heavy metals in their body. One method is a urine/creatinine test. Ask your physician for referrals and additional information. Q: Should I still have my child vaccinated? A: Absolutely. Childhood immunizations have greatly reduced and/or eradicated many deadly childhood diseases. If you feel unsure about immunizing your child, sit down and discuss it with your pediatrician. Ask questions. Be informed. Please send your thanks to the reporter directly for her hard work on these pieces. Valeri Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org directly. These would be great reports to send to your local media and legislators to continue the education process.