UPI Senior Editor
WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) --
For the second time this week, legislation aimed at
determining whether vaccines are linked to an
epidemic of unrecognized side effects has been
introduced in Congress -- this time as a direct
result of reporting by Age of Autism.
The new legislation, titled the Comprehensive
Comparative Study of Vaccinated and Unvaccinated
Populations Act of 2006, would order the National
Institutes of Health to study "health outcomes,
including autism," in those two groups.
In essence, the bill proposes the simplest way to
exonerate vaccines as a cause of autism: If the
autism rate is about the same in never-vaccinated
children, vaccines are unlikely to play any role.
Yet such a straightforward and potentially decisive
study has never been done on American children. In
the past, public-health officials have said such an
approach would be impractical due to low numbers of
never-vaccinated children, but this column found
tens of thousands of such children -- beginning with
the Amish -- in various locations in the United
In our anecdotal and unscientific reporting, the
rate of autism seemed strikingly lower in
never-vaccinated children, although those findings
cannot be considered conclusive or convincing. For
that, a scientific study would be needed, as
proposed in the new legislation.
The bill is being co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn
Maloney, D-N.Y., and Tom Osborne, R-Neb. It seeks to
determine whether there is any correlation between
the increasing number of immunizations in recent
years and the rise in "chronic, unexplained diseases
such as autism, learning disabilities, and other
neurological disorders" over the same time period.
"Childhood immunizations greatly reduce human
suffering from infectious disease, and I think it
would be in the best interest of everyone if we
definitively resolve parents' questions about
vaccines," Maloney said in a statement.
Maloney cited particular concern about the
mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal, to
which children were increasingly exposed beginning
in the late 1980s. It was phased out starting in
1999 at the recommendation of public-health
officials and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Subsequent studies have found no association between
thimerosal and autism, but critics say those studies
have been inadequate and beset by conflicts of
interest. Nor have they compared vaccinated vs.
unvaccinated populations, in part because officials
say such groups are hard to find in a society where
childhood immunizations are routine -- and mostly
mandatory for school attendance.
"In this country we have very high levels of
vaccination," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told
Age of Autism at a news conference last year. While
"such studies could be done and should be done," she
suggested, the obstacles might be overwhelming.
But this column identified several groups that might
fit the bill -- from the Amish in Pennsylvania Dutch
country to homeschooled children to patients of a
Chicago family practice.
"I have not seen autism with the Amish," said Dr.
Frank Noonan, a family practitioner in Lancaster
County, Pa., who has treated thousands of Amish for
"You'll find all the other stuff, but we don't find
the autism. We're right in the heart of Amish
country and seeing none, and that's just the way it
In Chicago, Homefirst Medical Services treats
thousands of never-vaccinated children whose parents
received exemptions through Illinois' relatively
permissive immunization policy. Homefirst's medical
director, Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, told us he is not
aware of any cases of autism in never-vaccinated
children; the national rate is 1 in 175, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We have a fairly large practice," Eisenstein told
us. "We have about 30,000 or 35,000 children that
we've taken care of over the years, and I don't
think we have a single case of autism in children
delivered by us who never received vaccines.
"We do have enough of a sample," Eisenstein said.
"The numbers are too large to not see it. We would
absolutely know. We're all family doctors. If I have
a child with autism come in, there's no
communication. It's frightening. You can't touch
them. It's not something that anyone would miss."
Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, a Florida family practitioner
with ties to families who homeschool their children
for religious reasons, told Age of Autism he has
proposed such a study in that group.
"I said I know I can tap into this community and
find you large numbers of unvaccinated homeschooled,"
said Bradstreet, "and we can do simple prevalence
and incidence studies in them, and my gut reaction
is that you're going to see no autism in this
Osborne and Maloney said such examples undercut
claims "there was not a big enough population to
which we could compare the general vaccinated
population. ... The Maloney-Osborne legislation
proposes comparing vaccinated populations with
unvaccinated populations such as these."
Clearly, there are children with autism who have
never been vaccinated. Moreover, even a much-lower
rate of autism in never-vaccinated groups would not
directly implicate vaccines as a cause -- other
factors could be at work. For instance, the Amish
might have a genetic resistance to the disorder;
children receiving alternative schooling or
healthcare might have less exposure to other
conceivable medical, environmental or lifestyle
But just as clearly, such a study could be done, and
the Maloney-Osborne bill proposes to do it.
Maloney was co-sponsor of another bill introduced
Wednesday with Rep. David Weldon, R-Fla. That bill
would give responsibility for the nation's vaccine
safety to an independent agency outside the CDC.
Weldon was harshly critical of the government's
monitoring of vaccines.
The National Autism Association called the two bills
"good news from Washington. NAA applauds
Congresswoman Maloney in her continuing efforts to
support families affected by autism with this new
legislation and co-sponsorship of Congressman
Weldon's Vaccine Safety bill."
The group urged its members to ask their local
representatives to support the legislation when they
are back in their districts during the August
© 2006 United Press International. All Rights
This material may not be reproduced,
redistributed, or manipulated in any form.