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Vaccines - A Commentary

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Joe Counter is a political consultant who handles Republican candidates in Denton, Collin and Dallas Counties. His wife, Theresa, was a hedge fund accountant for Bank of America until she left to look after their growing family. Then something catastrophic happened. Their oldest son Jac, nearing his second birthday, healthy and full of chatter, suddenly stopped talking, started withdrawing into his own world of rage and developed a siege of diarrhea that lasted for two years. The problem: autism. The cause: mercury poisoning from childhood vaccines, or so the Counters believe.

What has gone wrong, says Joe Counter, is the proliferation of shots in the first two years of life containing thimerosal, a preservative designed by Eli Lilly that is 50 percent ethyl mercury.

It begins right at birth with immunization for Hepatitis B, which is repeated in two more shots. This is followed in due order by immunizations in two or three doses each whose number has doubled since the 1970's.

No doubt this has benefited many children, but not necessarily all of them. Cases of autism have leapt by 200-to- 600 percent in every state. According to Andrew Waters, a Dallas attorney who represents the families of several autistic children, including the Counters, the illness began to be noticed in 1943, not long after thimerosal was introduced as a vaccine preservative in the 1930's. By the middle of the last decade, it had grown into such an epidemic that alarms rang out on all sides.

Finally, in 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration directed manufacturers to take thimerosal out of their childhood vaccines. Gradually it has disappeared, though some medical practitioners have insisted on using all their existing supplies. For this reason, some who follow this issue closely advise parents to ask doctors for the single-dose vial, not a multiple-dose vial which has the old mixture. Also, flu shots still have mercury, and that needs to change since they are recommended for children between six and 23 months by the Centers for Disease Control.

The Counters were dealt a blow when Congress included in the Homeland Security Bill a provision exempting from liability companies that manufacture vaccines, including Eli Lilly, which got out of the thimerosal business in 1991, but its licensees continued. All now face costly litigation, or they did until this rescue action by Congress.

The Counters now can turn to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program established in 1986, where the maximum they can receive is $250,000, plus attorney's fees. However, the cost of treating autism is not covered by insurance, so their needs are great. Republican leaders in Congress and the White House have promised to help by rescinding the vaccines liability measure in the first spending bill of the new year. This is a promise they really must keep.

Lee Cullum is a frequent contributor to The Dallas Morning News and to KERA.