[See: Healthy trial babies only]
NewsTarget.com printable articleOriginally published November 14 2007
Dissecting A Thimerosal Study
by Heidi Stevenson
(NewsTarget) They're at it again. The campaign to make people believe that vaccines and their preservative, thimerosal, are safe is in full swing. The usual technique of a pseudo-scientific test is being used, with the medical system jumping on the bandwagon. The upshot of the reports is always the same: to belittle the legitimate fear of serious risks.
What's the hoopla?
Susan Jeffrey, news editor of Medscape.com, has produced an article touting "Weight of Evidence Against Thimerosal Causing Neuropsychological Deficits”. On reading the article, it sounds convincing. To top it off, Dr. Paul A. Offitt is quoted as calling the issue of thimerosal a “cautionary tale”. He refers to a “cottage industry of charlatans offering false hope, partly in the form of mercury-chelating agents” to help children with autism. Pretty strong statement, isn't it?
The first point that should be made is that the study in question specifically does not include children with autism. The issue on which Offitt is making his point has absolutely nothing to do with the study.
Who is Dr. Offitt? He serves on the scientific advisory board of Merck and holds a patent on RotaTeq, a vaccine against rotavirus gastroenteritis. It's produced by Merck and has been noted for causing intussuseption, which is intestinal twisting, a life-threatening condition. Merck advocates giving this vaccine to babies aged 6 to 12 weeks, and it is now being routinely pushed by doctors. This new vaccine, with its life-threatening risk, is being given to prevent a disease that usually lasts from 3-8 days. Death from rotavirus gastroenteritis is almost unknown in the U.S. and common only where access to adequate nutrition or clean water is an issue.
So, the expert quoted has made a statement that has nothing to do with the study and he holds a patent on a dangerous vaccine being pushed on tiny babies for a disease that holds almost no risk if they're healthy. Is this the sort of person whose opinion on the issue—especially considering the fact that his statement has nothing to do with the study in question—is worthwhile?
What does the study actually say?
The bottom line, though, should be the quality of the study on which all the hoopla is based. So, let's take a look.
The study was reported by The New England Journal of Medicine on September 27, 2007. First, let's take a look at conflicts of interest of some of its authors:
*Dr. Thompson—the lead investigator—is a former employee of Merck.
*Dr. Marcy has received consulting fees from Merck, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, and MedImmune.
*Dr. Jackson received grant money from Wyeth, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis. He received lecture fees from Sanofi Pasteur and consulting fees from Wyeth and Abbott. Currently, he is a consultant to the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.
*Dr. Lieu is a consultant to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunication Practices.
*Dr. Black receives consulting fees from MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Merck, and grant support from MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline, Aventis, Merck, and Novartis.
*Dr. Davis receives consulting fees from Merck and grant support from Merck and GlaxoSmithKline.
The article then states, “No other potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.” One must wonder if it might have been easier to identify researchers who don't have a conflict of interest!
Then, we have the fact that the primary concern about thimerosal, that it might cause autism, is not even addressed by the study in question. In fact, it is specifically not included!
Looking at the report of the study itself reveals:
Any child with a preexisting neurological condition was eliminated from the test. However, is it not possible—in fact, probable—that these children are the most at risk from exposure to thimerosal? Any child who developed certain neurological conditions was excluded. These conditions included encephalitis and meningitis. The possibility that thimerosal might cause these conditions was eliminated from consideration.
Of the 3,648 originally selected for the study: 959 dropped out. Of these,
68% cited a lack of time. However, there is no consideration for why they
couldn't spend the time. The possibility that some of these mothers were
overburdened by having children with neurological problems, which is, of course,
the focus of the study, simply isn't considered.
13% of these mothers are reported to have been distrustful or ambivalent about the research, but what their bias was is not indicated. Could they have decided not to take part because they noted a bias on the part of the researchers? 512 were eliminated because they "did not meet one or more of the eligibility requirements". (The aforementioned issue of conditions that might predispose to harm from thimerosal or be caused by thimerosal are not considered.) Thus, 1288, 35%, of the children, were eliminated from the study for reasons that, at best, are not adequately documented.
Other children were eliminated for various other reasons. One group excluded was children whose birth weight was under 2,500 grams, about 5.5 pounds. How many babies were eliminated for being underweight is not stated. Babies of this weight are hardly rare and they are not excluded from vaccinations. What legitimate reason could be given for this exclusion?
In the end, only 30% of the originally-selected children were included in the study.
The study itself acknowledges that selection bias might have been a factor in the findings. It acknowledged that interventional treatments for neurological deficits were not considered and that parents had not been trained to assess tics, so reports of such abnormalities may not have been made. Finally, the study noted that autism itself—the condition most often connected with thimerosal—was not considered.
So what are the results on the 30% of children—the ones least likely to be affected by the toxin mercury—who were not excluded from the study? They appear to show sex-related changes in neuropsychological tests, both positive and negative.
According to the article, “An increase of 2 SD [second deviations] in mercury exposure was associated with an average of a 3-point increase in performance IQ among boys and a 3-point decrease in verbal IQ among girls.” Even if this statement is accurate—and the means by which the study excluded children makes that doubtful—the consistency of a three point drop in verbal IQ among girls at the second standard deviation would likely be enough to give most parents second thoughts before subjecting their daughters to thimerosal.
The study also noted an increase in tics, a replication of a result from an HMO. The article suggests that “The replication of the findings regarding tics suggests the potential need for further studies. ”
So, even by excluding 70% of the children, the study itself concluded that there is an indication of risk that should be evaluated further. This is hardly the same as the screaming headline in Medscape claiming that there is no risk from thimerosal.
What does it all mean?
Here's the bottom line: Mercury, which is the dangerous element in thimerosal, is known to be extremely toxic, causing a wide range of neurological disorders and possibly others, including cancer. This is not even open to discussion; it's a statement of fact. It is also known that it accumulates in the body. Thus, each and every exposure to mercury increases the risk of harm. These inescapable facts make it quite clear that any study showing that thimerosal is not dangerous must be playing games. Even if it is not harmful at the doses used in vaccinations, the fact remains that the mercury stays in the body, adding to the toxic load that invariably exists in everyone in this modern age.
Clearly, it is disingenuous to suggest that there is no risk in thimerosal. It doesn't require studies to realize that fact. The study examined in this article shows clearly that those producing it are well paid by the pharmaceutical firms that profit by its use. The flaws in the study are huge. Over two-thirds of its original sample group were eliminated, and many of those eliminated have characteristics that would be more likely to document harm.
Yet, the news media and medical shills for the pharmaceutical industry are already hawking the claims. Worse, they're doing so by using the people in the medical industry who are already deep in the pockets of pharmaceutical firms. This is the reality of most of the medical studies being done and touted today: They are bought and paid for by those who profit from the results. Thus, whatever is necessary to show whatever the profiteers wish to see is done. Could there be any other valid reason for eliminating small babies from this study?
About the authorHeidi Stevenson