Gross Brown fictions: Vaccinations, autism, and the Institute of Medicine

Teresa Binstock
Researcher in Developmental & Behavioral Neuroanatomy
June 5, 2009

In 2001 and 2004, the Institute of Medicine conducted hearings regarding vaccinations in relation to autism. The 2001 hearing concluded that an etiologically relevant link between thimerosal injections and autism was plausible. The 2004 hearing offered not only a negative conclusion but recommended that no further research be done. Fortunately, some researchers have continued to document mechanisms by which some individuals are more likely to be adversely affected by injections of thimerosal and/or aluminum (eg, 1-5). Clearly, in 2004 the IOM took a strong stand against research linking vaccinations and autism (eg, 6). However, according to documents obtained by FOIA, the IOM's hearing process and conclusions may have been biased by the IOM's contractual relationship with the CDC (reviewed in 7).

Since 2004, various commentors in media and in science have cited the IOM's 2004 decree as gospel and do so without realizing that the IOM continues to consider vaccinations as a factor contributing to the rise in autism, which is actual, not merely the result of "better diagnosis" (8).

Consider what Liza Gross and Ari Brown have written in regard to the IOM:
a) Ari Brown, M.D., is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In 2008 she wrote, "The Institute of Medicine spent four years studying this issue. Their conclusion, issued in 2004: mercury preservatives in vaccines did NOT cause autism . . . and the Institute said it was time to move on to look at other possible causes. Several other leading medical organizations (both nationally and internationally) agree with this conclusion." (9)
b) Presumably referring to the Institute of Medicine, Gross wrote for publication in 2009, "the leading health institutions in the United States had reviewed the body of evidence, and that they found no reason to think vaccines had anything to do with autism." (10)

However, despite what Brown and Gross have written, the IOM has not ruled out a causal link between vaccinations and autism in subgroups of children with increased susceptibility. Indeed, vaccinations as etiologically significant in some cases of autism remain a focus of the IOM. Consider some points set forth in a thoroughly referenced reply to Dr. Brown's essay.
a)  "The Institute of Medicine (IOM) hosted a two-day conference in April, 2007, “Autism and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities for Research” [78]. The workshop discussed environmental causes, including vaccines, and suggested a long list of related research opportunities."(11)
b) "...a subsequent 2008 IOM autism workshop reversed much of the Institute’s original position, concluding that vaccine safety was “still on the table” and recommended specific vaccine studies [104]." (11)

Preliminary conclusion: Ari Brown and Liza Gross would have us believe that the IOM has sustained its 2004 decree proscribing further research into a causal relationship between autism and vaccinations for subgroups of children with increased susceptibility. However, the IOM statements offered by Brown and Gross seem erroneous, and questions arise. Did Brown and Gross write in ignorance of the IOM's ongoing consideration of vaccines and vaccinations?  Did Brown and Gross deliberately offer fictional summaries of the IOM's current stance so as to further a belief contrary to fact?

So long as official spokespersons such as Brown and Gross mislead (9-10) - either deliberately or through ignorance - and don't admit and share important details (many obtained by FOIA) (7, 11), trust in vaccinations will not be rekindled.


1. Some aspects of astroglial functions and aluminum implications for neurodegeneration.
Aremu DA, Meshitsuka S. Brain Res Rev. 2006 Aug 30;52(1):193-200.

2. Blood-brain barrier flux of aluminum, manganese, iron and other metals suspected to contribute to metal-induced neurodegeneration.
Yokel RA. J Alzheimers Dis. 2006 Nov;10(2-3):223-53.

3. Cellular and mitochondrial glutathione redox imbalance in lymphoblastoid cells derived from children with autism.
Jame SJ et al. FASEB J. 2009 Mar 23. [Epub ahead of print]

4. Thimerosal neurotoxicity is associated with glutathione depletion: protection with glutathione precursors.
James SJ et al. Neurotoxicology. 2005 Jan;26(1):1-8.

5. Mitochondrial mediated thimerosal-induced apoptosis in a human neuroblastoma cell line (SK-N-SH).
Humphrey ML et al. Neurotoxicology. 2005 Jun;26(3):407-16.

Environmental exposure to mercurials continues to be a public health issue due to their deleterious effects on immune, renal and neurological function. Recently the safety of thimerosal, an ethyl mercury-containing preservative used in vaccines, has been questioned due to exposure of infants during immunization. Mercurials have been reported to cause apoptosis in cultured neurons; however, the signaling pathways resulting in cell death have not been well characterized. Therefore, the objective of this study was to identify the mode of cell death in an in vitro model of thimerosal-induced neurotoxicity, and more specifically, to elucidate signaling pathways which might serve as pharmacological targets... Taken together these findings suggest deleterious effects on the cytoarchitecture by thimerosal and initiation of mitochondrial-mediated apoptosis.

6. IOM Report: No Link Between Vaccines and Autism

7. [CDC chicanery] Quick Summary

8. The rise in autism and the role of age at diagnosis.
Hertz-Picciotto I, Delwiche L. Epidemiology. 2009 Jan;20(1):84-90.

9. Clear Answers & Smart Advice About Your Baby's Shots
Ari Brown, M.D.

10. A broken trust: lessons from the vaccine--autism wars.
Liza Gross. PLoS Biol. 2009 May 26;7(5):e1000114.

11. Response to Dr. Ari Brown and the Immunization Action Coalition
Wakefield et al.

78. Institute of Medicine
(agenda, task, slides, audiotapes, transcript, and summary of recommendations).

104 Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders, IoM, Autism and the Environment: Challenges
and Opportunities for Research, Workshop Proceedings. 2008, National Academies Press: Washington DC.