Top federal health officials are urging parents to have their children vaccinated for childhood diseases amid continuing protests from groups convinced that some children become autistic as a result.
Does mercury used as a preservative in childhood vaccines cause developmental disorders known as autism? Many scientists say no, doctors say no, and the government says no. But parents who say their children were perfectly normal before they got their shots aren't convinced. "By ignoring that this ever happens, they're not getting appropriate treatment, therefore they don't have an opportunity to recover," says concerned parent Lyn Redwood.
Rates of autism have tripled since the mercury-laced preservative thimerosal was introduced in the 70's, but a government review last year found no link. "I can't sit here today and tell you with 100 percent certainty that there's never any association between thimerosal and autism... What we can say is the predominate science does not show a link," says CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
A vaccine researcher whose daughter is autistic joined the CDC, the American Medical Association and pediatricians urging parents to get their kids immunized. "One thing I'm totally confident about -- Rachel's autism had nothing to do with the vaccine she received," said researcher Peter Hotez.
Six years ago, the FDA banned Thimerosal in most childhood vaccines. Some still contain trace amounts but, the government says, not enough to cause harm. Flu shots, however, do contain Thimerosal. Congressman and physician Dave Weldon is sponsoring a bill to eliminate it. "It's a known toxic substance...considered toxic... something to be avoided, definitely in childhood vaccines," said Rep. Dave Weldon, (R)-Florida.
Doctors say if worried parents refuse to vaccinate their children -- diseases like polio and measles could come back...with a vengeance. The government is doing a study of just how many kids are believed to be autistic. Results are due out next year.