Moms push mercury-autism link 

Protesters crowded sidewalks at CDC

Amy Carson screamed into a megaphone as drivers rolled up their car windows and turned into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Our children, your crime," she chanted as other protesters hoisted signs reading "Ban mercury from vaccines" and "It's true / It's thimerosal," referring to the mercury-containing preservative once widely used in vaccines.

Carson was one of more than 100 protesters who crowded the sidewalks outside the CDC's headquarters on Thursday as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which sets the standards on how and when vaccines are administered, had its summer meeting inside. The protest was organized by a grassroots advocacy group called Moms Against Mercury, who believe thimerosal is responsible for the incredible jump in autism over the last 20 years.

The group also accuses the CDC of covering up an internal study that concluded thimerosal appears to be responsible for autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children.

According to a story jointly published in Rolling Stone and Salon, the study was revealed at a meeting in Norcross of scientists and health officials in 2000. The report quoted transcripts from the meeting where concern was expressed about how the revelations would impact the vaccine industry's bottom line. The story said the CDC withheld the report, and then hired the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study specifically to "rule out" a link between thimerosal and autism.

There has been substantial debate about whether a link exists between mercury and autism; recent studies have indicated there is no link. Although the government ordered manufacturers to phase out thimerosal given to children in 1999, many flu shots still contain the preservative. Some researchers think there may be a correlation between flu shots received by the elderly and the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The CDC has concluded there is no evidence of a correlation between autism and thimerosal. But many parents have said their children appeared to develop autism shortly after having received childhood vaccinations. "These vaccines aren't preventions," said Shelly Sulkoske, one of the protesters. "They're poison."

Jose Cordero, director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, says autism is probably caused by several factors. "Research is pointing to a combination of genetic and environmental factors," Cordero said. "Finding the cause is our highest priority."

Autism is a developmental disability that impairs a person's ability to interact and communicate effectively. Autistic children often appear to be in their own world and often have a secondary disability such as mental retardation or epilepsy. The CDC estimates that as many as one out of 166 children has autism today, an increase from one out of 2,000 children only 20 years ago.

The Moms Against Mercury rally was one of the most significant protests to occur at the CDC since the HIV/AIDS protests in the 1980s. "The amount of mercury in multiple vaccines injected into children is causing significant neurological damage," Carson said. "What they're doing is criminal."

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