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Autism Connection to Thimerosal...Renewed Concern?

I know I've started many a post on urbanMamas with...."Did anyone see Oprah the other day?" But I'm asking again...did anyone see Jenny McCarthy and Holly Robinson Peete on Oprah this week discussing autism? Oprah read a new statement from the Centers for Disease Control:

"...We simply don't know what causes most cases of autism, but we're doing everything we can to find out. The vast majority of science to date does not support an association between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. But we are currently conducting additional studies to further determine what role, if any, thimerosal in vaccines may play in the development of autism. It is important to remember, vaccines protect and save lives. Vaccines protect infants, children and adults from the unnecessary harm and premature death caused by vaccine-preventable diseases."

It seems that in the past the stance from the CDC has been that there is absolutely no connection, but in this statement they seem to be saying they are pretty sure, but not definitely sure that there isn't a connection and they're doing more research now... I know I'm opening a can of worms here but it's got me thinking and I'd love to know if any other mamas are renewing their concerns over any connection between vaccinations (specifically for MMR) and autism?


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Without getting into whether or not there is a connection (or into whether or not to vaccinate, both of which are highly politicized and personal decisions), I want to point out that child vaccines in the US have either no thimerosal or very low concentration.

From the National Institutes of Health:

In July 1999, U.S. Department of Health and Human Service agencies, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure and to reduce exposure to mercury from all sources.

Today, all routinely recommended licensed pediatric vaccines currently being manufactured for the U.S. market are either thimerosal-free or contain markedly reduced amounts of thimerosal. Thimerosal, however, remains in some vaccines given to adults and adolescents, as well as some pediatric vaccines not on the Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule. Thimerosal is still a common preservative found in vaccines used outside the United States.


Such a big can of worms, NoPo! teehee- just teasin ya.

One major aspect for me is, how much can we really trust the CDC? or the FDA? or the CPSC? All of these governmental agencies issue these "statements" that are supposed to be the "truth", but it's so hard to tell. So, the government says they are pretty sure there is no connection....

and then on the flip side, we have countless mamas who are sure of it. no doubt in their minds. while being a mama doesn't give us a paper degree, i think we all know it grants us an immeasurable amount of wisdom.

my roommate works as a chef for a family with an autistic child - they are sure from his vaccinations at 18 months. They hired my roommate to implement special diets as a part of their efforts to reverse the autism. (they have a website - www.generationrescue.com).

anyway, it really is personal (mostly cuz it's so political). but i still feel the same concern as i did when i was pregnant with Asher and it all came on to my radar. it's scary.

The MMR vaccine never contained thimerosol. (See chart)


The concern over the MMR arose because many kids begin to show symptoms of autism around 18 months, when the MMR vaccine is given. And many people believe that the MMR does trigger or cause autism. But not because of thimerosol.

However, there certainly was/is thimerosol in other vaccines, and as far as I'm concerned, ethylmercury isn't something I want to inject in my infant.

Most of the people I know (including myself) who are concerned about the possible effects of vaccines are not focused on thimerosol. (At least, not those of us whose kids were born after it stopped being widely used). For me, the aluminum, formaldehyde and other ingredients in vaccines are just as worrisome.

It's a tough issue to research, that's for sure, with a lot of emotion on both sides, as well as a lot of science. Our kids are given so many more vaccines than our generation ever was; from my reading I've concluded that the combo shots kids get now, with as many as 6 different vaccines in one, may really drive some kids' systems around the bend.

I've selectively vaccinated my kids, and as for the MMR, I would never give it to a kid before age 5. I don't want my son to have it at all; I'd much rather he got measles as a kid. But since measles is a lot worse for a teen or adult, I'm leaning toward getting him the MMR before puberty hits.

I hate to put too fine a point on this, but when we use the term "autism" in this context are we actually referring to the entire autistic spectrum? Does this include, e.g., Asperger's as well?

The literature out there is confusing.

rockstar mama, I think not. A 2002 California study concluded that "The observed increase in autism cases cannot be explained by a loosening in the criteria used to make the diagnosis."

Zinemama, I understand; I meant to ask [and apparently did it badly] are we talking about the whole spectrum when we talk about vaccines? I didn't mean anything about the loosening of criteria, I just wanted to know if we were talking about autism itself or the whole she-bang. The stuff I've read about Asperger's tends not to talk about possible causes so I've never been sure if vaccines are suggested as being responsible for that syndrome as well.

[I couldn't get your link to work, btw]

There may actually be a connection between vaccines and children who do not have the metallothionein proteins. I've done a lot of research on this. read here. http://adopttwoboys.blogspot.com/2007/09/jenny-and-holly-speak-out-on-autism.html

It worked that time, Zm - thanks mucho.

I really appreciate when this topic stays above the "ugliness" it sometimes brings out. It's such a tough topic for some parents - and will probably only increase over time as drug companies come up with new vaccines.

(I wanted to mention that I have a selectively vaxed child and constantly change my vax plans for next child, etc. Always reading...)

I also wanted to point out that the autism/thim. issue is a small part of the overall vaccine questioning/non-vax position. For me, there are other issues at hand - beyond the toxic ingredient in small bodies issue. For example, I am concerned with the trade off we make - are we eradicating one biological illness (that may be relatively harmless if experienced during childhood) for the same illness in a more dangerous time (adult or senior years)? Are we trading one biological illness/disease/event for something we can't quite see - do these vaccines cause or contribute or change our natural immune system (for the worse). In general I am in favor of science/medicine/etc. - but sometimes I wonder if we really understand enough about immunity - maybe some of these childhood illnesses are important events for our biological bodies/cells to pass through - maybe by "faking immunity" (instead of natural immunity) we are changing the way our immune system works (let alone other systems). I know - I may have just jumped the "crazy train" with those thoughts...

Vaccinating is not about protecting the individual, but about protecting the masses/the herd. I think it's valid for all parents to question and think deeper about vaccines - even if in the end we decide to vaccinate. It's tough to just blanket trust CDC and drug companies on these things. Especially when they seem so unwilling to even listen to the questions. (and really, they can't afford to - vax programs only work if high numbers vax). In fact - this lack of trust for drug companies/vaccine industry and cdc is my biggest concern - There is too huge a profit behind launching a new vaccine and protecting current ones.

Last thought - a frustration with large amount of vaccinating that we do in our society - is that it becomes very hard to get these childhood illnesses during childhood - when they are appropriate. In some cases, if I can't find a way for my children to achieve natural immunity from these illness as a child (ex. chicken pox) then I will have to give the vaccine to teen child to avoid a more dangerous form of the illness during adult years.

We were recently contacted by University of Chicago for a survey on vaccinations. Many of the questions focused on autism, developmental delays and the like. So there may be a new study and results coming from that.

The autism risk was one of many reasons for our vax decisions. We have delayed vax and have been selective on choices based on risk and possible exposure among other factors - probably similar to the decisions Kate is making. For instance, Mila did not receive any vax until 15 months, thus far we are on the same track with Gael. However if our children were not breastfed and benefiting from Jen's immunities as a result we may have reconsidered our decisions on the delay.

Let me emphasize that these have been our PERSONAL decisions based on what we feel is a review of both sides of the issue.

On another note, Sadie Rose brings up something that would sure be an interesting discussion: "how much can we really trust the CDC? or the FDA? or the CPSC?"

I have to say that recent issues with food, drug, and toy safety has really left me feeling like I have no choice but to be my best advocate in my purchasing decisions and the like. I have become a chronic label-reader as of late (did you know that some of the canned beans sold at Trader Joe's are made in China? WTF?)

I don't think those organizations are lying to me but I have to admit that I have lost faith in their ability to ensure that things in the our marketplaces are safe.

Hi Milagros-

(sorry, this is a bit unrelated)

I can't believe that about the beans! No wait, I can. Many years ago, pre-baby, my partner at the time wouldn't let us shop at TJs because of various things he had heard. I was reluctant to wholly subscribe to the idea of ruling it out completely, but we shopped elsewhere. Do you (or anyone else) have any more information on the origins of TJs food? I'm just curious.

Finally, as far as the Gov. agencies go, this recent article in the NY Times talks about the CPSC and its recent failures, and how in the Bush administration, many of the administration heads who have been appointed are just former industry people that are really looking out for the "wrong" team.


I too, am concerned about the MMR vaccine (and others--why vaccine a newborn for hepatitis which is contracted thru drug use and tattoos!). And on Oprah I thought it was irrelevant for the CDC to make such a statement when Thimerosil is not in vaccines any longer (it is in the flu vaccine). Maybe they were trying to divert attention so pediatricians can tell parents "Well, these shots don't have mercury in them." I believe some kids may be predisposed to autism (they have found a gene connection) and something like a vaccine can trigger or mutate a jene. And the MMR vaccine is a culprit because the combo of those 3 can be too much for the body. And so, I have put off giving this one to my two year old (and the pediatrician is NOT happy about this). I've looked into giving the shots separately, and not only are they almost impossible to find (previous post in 2005 mentioned a couple, but I cannot reach them) they are incredibly expensive. To do the entire series of shots, we're looking at $500! Insurance doesn't cover it! I know my child's health is priceless, but that's a major expense. Has anyone out there done the separate MMR shots separately, where did you find them and how much did you spend?

Our Trader Joe's bean discovery was just from reading the labels at the store when we are shopping for beans!

But I did catch this interview on NPR, where a NY Times reporter was detained when trying to follow-up on the lead-paint problem in China. It was a pretty eye-opening interview on manufacturing practices and choices in China in general:


Re: food from china - HUGE issue - FDA does not require origin of food. Much of the ingredients that make up our processed foods are from China (and elsewhere) and even whole foods like canned and frozen vegetables/fruit are from china. This issue goes beyond Trader Joes - even Whole Foods, etc. sells organic frozen food sourced from china. It's so frustrating to only be able to find distribution source country - when obviously that means nothing.

There was an interesting article recently and the headline was about vaccination rates going down - I jumped on it and assumed it was going to be about parents like me who don't vaccine due to safety concerns,etc. Instead it was about the growing amount of children not getting vaccinated because of lack of insurance coverage and the expense. They didn't even mention parents like me - so I have to imagine that this gap is a larger issue in the overall numbers. To me, this is just another indication of how much more important the money is than the public health argument for effective vax programs for the government and policy makers.

Re Trader Joe. Yeah, I was pretty disgusted to realize recently that their organic beans are made in China. So I've gone back to buying their conventional ones.

My husband talked the the Trader Joe guy, who told him that all their stuff can be assumed to be product of the USA unless labeled otherwise; all food of foreign origin is labeled with the name of the country. I've become really diligent about checking there this since we shop at TJ so often.

I know this is just continuing the off-topic, but the TJ story is yet another reminder that organic does not necessarily mean local. Trust your neighborhood co-op for accurate labeling for source as well as how it was grown.

[full disclosure: I serve on a co-op board]

Question: to parents who have decided to delay or not vaccinate their child(ren) - what happens when you go to enroll your child in school? I have a newborn and am new to this topic and am concerned...
to parents who decided to vaccinate, why begin when they are so young? Just b/c it's what the pediatrician suggests or is there a more important reason?
Any pediatricians out there with an opinion on this?

Mama G., you have to sign a waiver on the vaccinations when you register your child for school and claim a religious exemption on the vaccination form that schools require you fill out. I'm pretty sure that's the way you go about it.

And about the vaccination issue--if everyone decided not to vaccinate, then where would we be?

As a parent of a recently diagnosed four year old with autism, I am disturbed about shows, articles and people spreading this idea about the vaccine connection to autism. My child was vaccinated, but not with vaccines containing thimerasol, so I don’t see how she could have “mercury poisoning.” While I don’t necessarily trust the CDC, or other government agencies, I think the MMR link to autism has been disproved by many other sources like this Danish study http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/347/19/1477 . I should add that we skipped the chickenpox vaccine in the hopes of her getting natural immunity, so I am not opposed to people selectively vaccinating.

I worry that my child will not find acceptance of her quirks if people think her condition can be cured. Her personality and being is tied into her neurological differences, and I don’t want to change who she is. Although challenging at times, we are not living in some autism hell.

Here is an interesting article from Slate titled True Believers- Why there's no dispelling the myth that vaccines cause autism http://www.slate.com/id/2169459/pagenum/all/.

kate from Bird Nest: Your words pretty much express my thoughts on this issue. We also have the added wrinkle of a lot of autoimmune diseases in our family - celiac disease, arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis - that leave me wishing there was more specific research on people like us. I'm less worried about autism these days than setting my kids up for other autoimmune system problems.

Also, I worry less and less about childhood diseases. Remember when mumps hit a few years ago? And the health department got on the news and said this is a very mild disease and not to worry? I share the previous poster's frustration with being able to GET the diseases and just get them over with.

I just wonder sometimes if we vaccinate because we can, not because it's really better for us in the long run. And when I'm feeling *really* cynical I think we vaccinate so working parents don't have to stay home with sick kids.

Mama G, my kids are in public school in Portland, and it's totally simple. At the bottom of the vaccination form you get from the school along with all the other enrollment forms, there's just a little box with a place to check that says "religious exemption". Just check the box and sign. Nothing to it.

Now, am I not vaccinating/selectively vaccinating out of religious conviction. Not per se. But my religious/spiritual/ethical beliefs to tell me not to harm others, and I believe certain vaccines, at certain times are harmful at worst, unecessary at best. So I feel like I'm good.

there's a good book called "what your doctor may not tell you about children's vaccinations". it's not anti-vax, but provides an alternative timetable for administering them (waiting for kids' immune systems to develop), and advises splitting up MMR, for example.

I have a couple of comments-

We fully vaccinated our oldest son (he's five) but are choosing not to vaccinate our 6 month old. Our pediatrician is fine with it. She said the biggest reason they vaccinate newborns is because babies under 1 year have the biggest risk of having serious reactions (even death) to the diseases. Also, I know they can seperate the MMR shot because for some reason, I am not immune to Rubella (even though I was fully vaccinated as a child) and so I had the shot after my pregnancy - just rubella, not the mumps or measles. So, I'm assuming if they could do it for me, they can do it for children's shots as well. And my insurance fully covered it.

We selectively vaccinate. We had the MMR separated and even waited until our son was three to do that. He also has a lot a family history of autoimmune disease, has multiple food allergies, had bad eczema and some asthma syptoms, and we just followed our gut.
He has some of the behaviors that lead us to believe he could be on the autism spectrum somewhere, very mild (he's quirky, to use a term from the book Quirky Kids), and we just played it safe.

But I have a question...
I've been told more than once that if you selectively vaccinate you can NOT claim the religious exemption, that the county has your previous vaccination records and that proves you don't have a religious issue with it.
Is there any truth to this? We haven't run into it yet.

Anne, that is untrue.

Actually, there is a new vaccination form in Portland this year that allows you to check off the religious exemption for certain vaccinations and fill in the dates your child has received the others. (I guess because there are so many selective vaccinators here).

Previously, even if you'd given a couple of vaxes, you checked the religious exemption box on the vax form and left blank the space for all the vaxes. I.e. you gave the impression that you weren't vaxing at all, even if you were doing some.

we tossed and turned about vaccinations--splitting, omitting, etc. and when the time came we questioned our ped--and at that point it became very clear that she was a traditional doctor. she basically recommended we do the whole deal and had lots of "scary" reasons. and so we rolled over and did it. the first MMR sent me out of my mind. i waited and waited for the "fever", that according to some, pops up and then perhaps the change and signs of autism.

i do want to say that i express my concerns and fears with total respect for families of children with autism who do not feel that vax are a cause. and of course as well as those who do. i think many others voiced that it is a big personal issue and everyone is in it together because we all face the risk, whether vaccinating or not.

i inquired about splitting the MMR and my doctor said there was no reason--so like i said before, i let it go and didn't feel good about it. but i'm still worried about the next MMR (child is 1). and i would split them but like others i wonder if it's possible/covered by ins., etc. and--connected to autism or not, i don't want thimerosal in any of her vax in any amount. and i get that "should i trust you?" feeling even though i like our ped. has anyone asked to see the vax bottle? would the ped show you or just think you are nuts? would the bottle even say what the breakdown of contents are?

my husband and i have many discussions about kate's point of the immunity faking and what our body actually does when it is exposed to illnesses that it fights off. kind of like keeping your kid covered covered in antibac stuff vs. letting them roll in dirt and eat it (except for the lead!!!).

new seasons shoppers--as you know they let you know where your produce comes from and i think some of their frozen fruit/veg is local. but the canned stuff--i realize now that i need to check. thanks for all the info.

Ouch, ThisKat. Do you think every working parent has an employer who just doles out the sick leave generously and replaces it w/ a wave of their fairy wand? This isn't even my own predicament, but I know lots of other working moms who have to scrape to accummulate sick leave - if they're lucky, it's paid sick leave, but not always - just in case of a dire emergency. And a lot of those moms are single moms. And single or not, a lot of those parents can't afford to take unpaid time off. I wouldn't begin to second-guess a hard-workin' mama who decided she couldn't afford to let her kid get the chicken pox naturally, not unless I'd walked in her shoes 1st.

Weren't we leaving the judgment out of this?

Your friend, Rockstar Mama

SuzanneLynn, any doctor worth having will let you have the insert from the vaccine package. It's a piece of paper listing all the ingredients, side effects, studies used, etc. I asked for it for the MMR back when I was still on the fence about giving to a kid under 5.

I would say if you are worried about the MMR, listen to your instinct. But also research. Someone recommended Dr. Cave's books "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Childhood Vaccinations" She breaks it down, disease by disease: risk of illness, risk of vaccine reaction, possibility of getting the illness, etc.

Personally, I concluded that I was more comfortable with my child getting most of the diseases we vaccinate for than getting him vaccinated for them. But this is a really personal decision, as others have mentioned, and will take into account your kids general health, propensities toward certain conditions, and other factors.

There is a lot of generalize fear around this issue, and for me, it helped a lot to really do the research and know about each illness and its risks. You also might want to look at the CDC's cumulative listings of notifiable diseases, which breaks down exactly how many cases of which diseases have been reported nation-wide on a yearly basis.


I do think it's fair to bring up the comment about vax and keeping parents at work/not having to stay home with sick child. In fact, it is a major marketing (if not reasoning) behind flu and chicken pox vax program.
I think it's possible to feel sorry for the parents that are stuck in bad work situations where they can't stay home with a sick kid - regardless of if this was a vax preventable illness or not. That same mom in need could have same issue if child has another illness that prevents going to school or daycare.
I didn't read anywhere that sounded like we were blaming the parents in the work/leave issue - just that this is part of the social reasoning behind such vax programs - and an overall family/work balance ethic that our society is faced with - where no one can safely be home to take care of sick relatives (or self!)

Yeah, that's how I read that as well. More like an observation/analysis thing than a shame/blame thing. Indeed, it is appalling that anyone should have to worry about their job or economic standing when making decisions concerning their child's health.

Wow this site is awesome. I saw the Oprah show and am personally TERRIFIED about all of this. I am the mom of a 9 yr old boy and a 6 month old boy. My 9 yr old is not fully vaccinated, and until the Oprah show I was feeling guilty about it, thinking he could potentially DIE of some disease he 'should' be vaccinated against. Of course now I am really struggling with this - I want my kids to be healthy but also am scared that the practice of vaccinating is almost a 'follow the herd' mentality - which is scary. My youngest was only vaccinated at his 2 month check, and the doctor is calling off the hook to get him in for vaccines for his 4 and 6 month checks, saying he is 'overdue'. I'm freaking out here. Thank you Urban Mamas for the info about Dr. Cave's book, I'm heading out to Powell's today.

Autmom, thanks for that link. That article had good context that helped me get past some confusion on a few points.
Sometimes I wonder if people remember this study that came out last year. As I recall, it was pretty well received - nobody seemed to be attacking the methods behind the study.

My apologies to all - esp. ThisKat - for any misreading on my part.

Hey, no worries. I wasn't very clear. I read a few years back (no idea where now)that when people questioned why we needed the chicken pox vaccine one of the rationales was that if kids didn't get chicken pox (which can last up to a week) then working moms wouldn't have to stay home with sick kids. Not that the disease was particularly dangerous to the population at large, but that the vaccine was introduced as a way to boost economic productivity.

That's what I meant when I said "when I'm feeling cynical." I really want to believe that the scientists who invented the vax did so for the good of humanity, not to boost the corporate bottom line. But some days it's hard to think positively about these things.

...and just for the record: I am a working parent, and a consultant at that so I have absoultely no back up. And I have to miss work when my kids are sick as I can't send the oldest to preschool if she's sick or have the nanny come with her toddler son if the baby is sick. And, I once has the opportunity to expose Clara to chicken pox but didn't because I was a few days away from leaving on a multi-day business trip. Not sure if I really need to add this, but just wanted to make it clear that I do get the particular struggle and worry of sick kids and working. I'm just not sure vaccinating my particular kids is really the answer in the long run.

Autmom: Thanks for the link to that Slate article. Your post really jumped out at me, and I can see how frustrated you must be with all the current talk about the supposed thimerosal link.

Veering off-track to ask about chicken pox: For those of you who have chosen not to vaccinate your children again chicken pox, do pediatricians said anything about the risk of shingles later in adulthood after getting chicken pox "naturally"?

The CDC has said:

"The risk of zoster [shingles] following vaccination appears to be less than that following infection with wild-type virus."

(Of course, being the CDC, they go on to say that "longer follow-up is needed to assess this risk over time.")


That shingles possibility later in life made me very comfortable deciding to go ahead with the Varicella vaccine for my children (Plus, despite being exposed repeatedly to chicken pox as a child, I instead ended up with a very, very debilitating and case of chicken pox as a young adult.)

Ack, there are so many issues we all feel so strongly about. Maybe some people will change their minds about certain subjects after reading about the experiences of other parents, and many will not change their stance at all. Vaccinations are a sore (pun intended!) subject with a lot of people. I remember the last time this came up, I posted about getting my daugther immunized against chicken pox because after her week long eye infection, I realized how hard it was to take so much time off from work for her illness. I didn't like that this was the reason why I did it, but I'm ok with it now. I am a single mom and I really can't afford to miss this much work mostly due to the fact that my work cannot miss me for so long. I still get paid (in sick time)but I then lose any sick time I might need for me or my daughter later, and my work suffers. No one pressures me there, it's myself pressuring me. I have never heard any marketing for any vaccinations, let alone playing to the vulnerability of the working mother. My doctor didn't pressure me, she just asked me my reasoning and gave me information. It was totally my choice, and I stand by my educated decisions regarding my child, until clear facts prove me wrong.

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