Nov 9, 2005 6:49 pm US/Eastern Can Childhood Vaccines Cause Autism? Scott Wahle Reporting (CBS4) The debate is heating up over the cause of an alarming increase in the number of childen with autism. Some parents blame childhood vaccines, but federal health officials say there's no scientific proof of any connection. Michaela Blaxill's parents say she was a normal baby, but that changed. "Sometime between her first and second year of life she slipped away, sort of quietly," says Michaela's father Mark Blaxill. "She lost the speech she had begun to acquire, she started disconnecting socially," he adds. Michaela was diagnosed with autism. Mark Blaxill says a form of mercury used as a preservative in childhood vaccines may be to blame. "I think the mercury in vaccines could trigger autism. It's a very plausible hypothesis," says Blaxill. The preservative is called thimerosal. Critics say when the government required more childhood shots in the nineties, kids received unsafe levels of mercury. At the same time the number of autism cases skyrocketed. By 2001 mercury was taken out of childhood vaccines except for some flu shots. Despite that, the debate recently took on a renewed intensity. A new book called "Evidence of Harm" by David Kirby raises alarming questions about thimerosal, and a controversial article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. charges the medical establishment with covering up the effects of mercury in vaccines. "The science connecting brain damage to thimerosal is absolutely overwhelming," says Kennedy. But many doctors and scientists say that charge is nonsense. "I don't believe there's any relationship between autism and thimerosal in vaccines, period," says Dr. Edward Bailey, the head of Pediatrics at North Shore Children's Hospital and a board member of the Academy of Pediatrics. He says the issue has been studied over and over. According to Dr. Bailey, "There is no scientific basis to come to the conclusion and say that vaccines are anything other than a miracle." But Mark Blaxill, vice president of Safe Minds, an organization demanding more research, says there are conflicts of interest at work. "A lot of these studies have been conducted and carried out by people who either have an ideological stake in the game, or a financial stake in the game, or a career stake in the outcome," according to Blaxill. The medical community dismisses charges of conflicts or cover ups, and worries that fears about vaccines could result in parents not immunizing their children. According to pediatrician Dr. Edward Bailey, "For those people who have never seen meningitis or for those for whom polio is a strange disease out of the past, they could all come back." There's one thing both sides in this controversy agree on. If the mercury preservative is responsible for triggering autism, we should see a dramatic drop in new cases over the next few years since thimerosal is now out of almost all childhood vaccines.
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