Since 1991, the estimated number of cases of autism has increased fifteen fold, from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.
The dramatic increase was first raised in government circles at a private meeting convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration in June 2000. Attending were corporate vaccine makers, excluded were members of the public.
A CDC epidemiologist analyzed its massive database - medical records of 100,000 children. He concluded a mercury-based preservative in vaccines, thimerosal, appeared to be responsible for the dramatic increase among children with autism and other neurological disorders such as speech delays, attention-deficit disorder, and hyperactivity.
Ely Lilly first developed thimerosal in 1930. Its own studies showed that thimerosal could cause damage, and death, in both animals and humans. Yet, Lilly failed to report these results when it declared thimerosal safe. In 1935 another vaccine manufacturer, Pittman-Moore, warned Lilly that its claims about thimerosal's safety "did not check with ours."
Since the 1930s the evidence against thimerosal continued to mount. In 1967, a study published in the journal, Applied Microbiology, found that thimerosal killed mice when added to injected vaccines. In 1971, Lilly's own studies discerned that thimerosal was "toxic to tissue cells" in concentrations as low as one part per million, 100 times weaker than the concentration in a typical vaccine. Nevertheless, the company continued to claim thimerosal is "nontoxic."
Government policies have a lot to do with children's increased exposure to thimerosal. Before 1989, American preschoolers only received three vaccines - polio, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and measles-mumps-rubella.
In 1991, the CDC recommended that newborns and infants be vaccinated for hepatitis B within 24 hours of birth, and 2-month-olds be immunized for haemophilus influenzae B and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis. A decade later, children were receiving a total of 22 immunizations containing thimerasol by the time they reached first grade - getting ethylmercury doses 187 times the EPA limit for daily exposure to methylmercury, a related neurotoxin.
The government never bothered to measure the cumulative dose of thimerosal children would receive from the newly mandated vaccines. The director of viral products for the FDA asked in an e-mail, "Why didn't CDC and these advisory bodies do these calculations when they rapidly expanded the childhood immunization schedule?"
If the federal government ignored the risks of thimerosal over the years, it certainly could not claim ignorance after its secret meeting in 2000. But, instead of discussing immediate steps to alert the public and to rid the vaccine supply of thimerosal, transcripts of the meeting obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that most of the time at the conference was devoted to discussing how to cover up the damaging data. At the meeting, the head of vaccine safety for the CDC said "the research results have to be handled."
The government has certainly "handled" these research results. To thwart FOIA requests, the CDC handed over the database of vaccine records to a private company, declaring it off limits to researchers.
Studies were conducted to whitewash the risks of thimerosal - researchers were directed to rule out thimerosal's link to autism. Vaccine manufacturers phased thimerosal out of vaccines given to American infants by 2005. The government bought the thimerosal-laced vaccines - only to export them to developing countries.
The pharmaceutical industry has powerful members of Congress to protect it from accountability and responsibility for using thimerosal in vaccines. Sen. Bill Frist has received $873,000 in contributions from the industry, and he has been working to shield companies from liability.
On five occasions, Frist tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents, including the transcripts of the 2000 meeting. He tried to shield Lilly from subpoenas regarding thimerosal. In 2002, he quietly slipped into a homeland security bill a measure to give Lilly immunity from liability for thimerosal. The day after Frist slipped this measure into the bill, Lilly contributed $10,000 to his campaign and bought 5,000 copies of his bioterrorism book.