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What the CDC and FDA Don’t Want You to Know About Thimerosal and Autism/Part VII

Jul 3, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

In 2005, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. published a lengthy examination of the history of Eli Lilly´s deadly mercury compound, thimerosal, in vaccines and its decades-long history of suppressed data about dangers to those receiving it.  Following is the seventh in a series from that piece, describing the outcome the 2000 Simpsonwood Conference, in which a group of government scientists and health officials met for a secret, highly-secluded meeting convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  In the coming days, we will continue to provide more information from this important paper on this dangerous health issue.

Dr. Paul Offit, one of CDC´s top vaccine advisers and who shares a patent on one of the vaccines, admitted to Kennedy that he "would make money" if his vote eventually led to a marketable product, but brushed off Kennedy’s suggestion that a scientist’s direct financial investment in CDC approval might bias his judgment.  Kennedy wrote that other vaccine scientists and regulators provided similar assurances, all seeing themselves as “enlightened guardians of children’s health, proud of their ‘partnerships’ with pharmaceutical companies, immune to the seductions of personal profit, besieged by irrational activists whose anti-vaccine campaigns are endangering children’s health.”  Kennedy found that such experts were resentful of questioning. "Science," said Offit, "is best left to scientists."

Regardless, some government officials were alarmed by the “apparent conflicts of interest.”  Paul Patriarca of the FDA—in a 1999 email to the CDC—harshly criticized federal regulators for “failing to adequately scrutinize the danger posed by the added baby vaccines,” saying, "I’m not sure there will be an easy way out of the potential perception that the FDA, CDC, and immunization-policy bodies may have been asleep at the switch re: thimerosal until now.”  Speaking about the connection between regulatory officials and the pharmaceutical industry, Patriarca wrote that it “Will also raise questions about various advisory bodies regarding aggressive recommendations for use" of thimerosal in child vaccines.

Kennedy wrote, “If federal regulators and government scientists” did not understand the risks of thimerosal before, “no one could claim ignorance after the secret” Simpsonwood Meeting.  Unfortunately, instead of conducting more studies, the CDC gave its database on childhood vaccines—a database mostly developed with taxpayer money—to the private agency, America´s Health Insurance Plans, which ensured the files could not be used for research.  The CDC also instructed the Institute of Medicine—an advisory organization and part of the National Academy of Sciences—to produce a study disproving the link.  The CDC "wants us to declare, well, that these things are pretty safe," Dr. Marie McCormick, who chaired the IOM´s Immunization Safety Review Committee, said adding that, "We are not ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect" of thimerosal exposure.  According to that meeting’s transcripts, the committee’s chief staffer, Kathleen Stratton, predicted that the IOM would conclude that the evidence was "inadequate to accept or reject a causal relation" between thimerosal and autism because this is what "Walt wants," a reference to Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the CDC’s National Immunization Program.


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