What? Removing thimerosal from vaccines caused the autism epidemic?

The blog post of mine that arguably “put me on the map” in the skeptical blogosphere was my very Insolent, very sarcastic deconstruction of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s deceptive pseudoscience-ridden bit of fear mongering that he called Deadly Immunity. It was originally jointly published both by Salon.com and Rolling Stone, a blot that neither publication will ever overcome. At least Salon.com retracted the article over five years later. Rolling Stone never did, although the article is now available only to its paid subscribers.

The reason I mention this “past glory” (if you can call it that) is not to brag, but rather to point out that my earliest “splash” was achieved refuting Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s claim that the mercury in the thimerosal used as a preservative in childhood vaccines caused an “epidemic” of autism. It’s a lie he’s still flogging in 2015, partying, as I put it, like it’s 1999. In other words, before I delve into my current topic, I wanted to point out that it is an article of faith among a segment of the antivaccine movement (sometimes referred to as the “mercury militia”) that the primary cause of the increase in autism prevalence observed over the last 25 years is thimerosal-containing vaccines. Never mind that it is a thoroughly discredited hypothesis. Never mind that there hasn’t been thimerosal in childhood vaccines other than the flu vaccine since 2002 and that there are thimerosal-free versions of that vaccine, meaning that children are exposed to less mercury from vaccines than any time since before the “autism epidemic” started. In other words, the continued increase in the prevalence of autism and autism-spectrum disorders long after the removal of thimerosal from nearly all childhood vaccinations has been the single strongest bit of evidence arguing against the hypothesis that thimerosal has anything to do with autism.

of course, leave it to a believer in quackery to turn that explanation upside down. In this case, it’s Beaux Reliosis, who bills herself as a “20-year survivor of Lyme disease” whose mission is “to get the Lyme criminals prosecuted so the millions suffering can be properly diagnosed and treated.” She’s also the author of a post entitled The Vaccine Scientific Exemption: Not Just for Cows. The title might be puzzling to you now, but hold on. It won’t be for long. Reliosis starts out with an odd story. Basically, she references a report from the MMWR Weekly from 1998 about human exposure to Brucella abortus strain RB51:

On May 26-27, 1997, nine persons (a farmer, four veterinary clinicians, and four veterinary students) in Manhattan, Kansas, participated in an attempted vaginal delivery, a cesarean delivery, and a necropsy on a stillborn calf that died because of Brucella abortus infection. The infection was confirmed by isolation of B. abortus from placental and fetal lung tissue cultures. The National Animal Disease Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), identified the B. abortus isolate from the calf as the RB51 vaccine strain. RB51 is a live, attenuated strain that was licensed conditionally by the Veterinary Services, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA, on February 23, 1996, for vaccination of cattle in the United States.

So basically, in 1997 somehow a calf died of an infection that was due to the vaccine strain of B. abortus. The humans who had been exposed took a prophylactic course of doxycycline, and none of them showed signs of infection by the vaccine strain of B. abortus. So why focus on a disease of cows? Here’s why:

Recap: Pregnant cow gets vaccine. Unborn calf gets the disease that the vaccine was supposed to prevent. Calf is stillborn; heifer is euthanized. Everyone involved in the surgery is treated with antibiotics for fear they also will contract the disease. Says the CDC.

Are they killing vaccine-injured people in California yet?

I can hear the vaccine rah-rah crowd saying, oh, but that’s in COWS. That couldn’t possibly happen with people. People are not cows.

Yes, “vaccine shedding” is a common myth among antivaccinationists. Any live attenuated vaccine, to hear them tell it, can lead to shedding and endanger people around them. It’s a convenient myth that allows antivaccinationist to falsely portray the vaccinated as spreading disease just as much, if not more, then their unvaccinated children. So why did she bring this up? I ask this because her story of the calf has nothing to do with what comes next, although what comes next is just as off-base:

In 2001, “except for influenza (flu), thimerosal is removed from or reduced in all vaccines routinely recommended for children 6 years of age and under manufactured for the U.S. market.” http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal/timeline.html

Which is the worst, stupidest thing our government could possibly have done.

Thimerosal was put in vaccines to prevent fungal growth in the vial. Fungal contamination leads to immunosuppression, which results in the reactivation or activation of the very viruses the vaccines are intended to prevent. Many of these viruses are known to be neurotropic and to interfere with neurodevelopment. It is glaringly obvious that this is the reason for the autism epidemic, and probably SIDS, ADHD and childhood cancers.

The CDC certainly knows that this vaccine-induced brain damage is going on. They most certainly are aware of this mechanism, since it is proven by their own data.

See why this post caught my attention? Here I’ve been hearing for more than a decade, since even before RFK, Jr.’s dishonest conspiracy mongering fear piece, that thimerosal is the root of all evil, that it’s the cause of autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, tics, and all maner of problems. Yet here we have an antivaccinationist claiming that taking thimerosal out of vaccines was the “stupidest thing our government could possibly have done.” Even more riotously laugh- and cringe-inducingly, she based it on experience in a cow with a live attenuated virus vaccine. Here’s a hint: Thimerosal was never in live attenuated virus vaccines, because it kills the virus.

When it comes to quacks, there is a tendency to want to make like physicists and come up with a “grand unified theory” of all disease. We see this in Robert O. Young, who believes that cancer, AIDS, and all disease are caused by “excess acid.” We also see it in Hulda Clark, who blamed cancer, AIDS, and—yes—all diseases on a liver fluke. We see it in the “chronic candida” crowd, who blame all manner of symptoms and chronic illness on chronic infection with candida albicans, a fungus. In this latter case, it’s true that humans can be infected with candida. However, in the absence of significant immunosuppression such infections are usually superficial and rarely serious. And let’s not forget Morgellon’s disease, in which some sort of “fibers” (which have never been proven to be anything more than clothing fibers) are blamed for all manner of symptoms.

Then there’s chronic Lyme disease, which is arguably the granddaddy of them all when it comes to being The One True Cause of all illness. There is, of course, no such thing as chronic Lyme disease, but that doesn’t stop a large number of people from blaming their vague, nonspecific symptoms to chronic Lyme, from a veritable army of quacks from coming up with a cornucopia of quackery to treat it (and a sad number of real doctors treating it with prolonged courses of antibiotics), and legislators from pandering to these patients and quacks by passing laws to protect the quacks from consequences due to their quackery.

So it’s not surprising that this “Beaux Reliosis” tries to fold the causes of autism and Lyme disease into one large mass of “fungal-viral damage.” What does she base this idea on? It’s some pretty thin gruel, scientifically speaking:

III. Thimerosal is put in vaccines to prevent fungi because they help activate viruses via immunosuppression, and inhibition of apoptosis of fungally infected B cells in particular.

2012, Dec, NYTimes; Doctors admit Thimerosal is put in vaccines to prevent fungi:

Vaccine Rule Is Said to Hurt Health Efforts
“But a proposal that the ban include thimerosal, which has been used since the 1930s to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination in multidose vials of vaccines, has drawn strong criticism from pediatricians…. They say that the ethyl-mercury compound is critical for vaccine use in the developing world, where multidose vials are a mainstay…Banning it would require switching to single-dose vials for vaccines, which would cost far more and require new networks of cold storage facilities and additional capacity for waste disposal, the authors of the articles said.'” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/health/experts-say-thimerosal-ban-would-imperil-global-health- efforts.html

OK, so thimerosal prevents fungal contamination. There’s nothing new there, and there’s nothing that any scientist would deny. of course, that’s what preservatives are for: To prevent the growth of microorganisms, including fungus, in multidose vials! That’s the purpose of any preservative used in multidose vials of any medicine! The shocking thing would be if thimerosal didn’t inhibit the growth of fungus. If that were the case, it’d be pretty useless as a preservative.

Not surprisingly, Beaux Reliosis then goes on to do a bit of ranting about pharma, but it’s so beside the point that I don’t want to dwell on it. It is, as I like to say, background noise. Instead, she goes on to go full Godwin:

Choice is what makes the top cops in the country look away from the blatant evidence of neurologic injury from contaminated vaccines. The DOJ chooses to let us suffer and our children continue to be maimed.

Choice is also what we the people will use to exert our scientific exemption over Nazi-style forced vaccination. The scientific exemption, the proof that fungal contamination in vaccines causes autism, cannot be taken away from us.

Do you think there would be autistic cows if they didn’t just kill them before the calves developed symptoms?

I’ll admit that when I first came across this post I had higher hopes for it. I thought that there might be a coherent idea behind it, even if that idea was very wrong. What I got instead was a series of very wrong ideas but not even coherently presented. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. When I was done reading this, all I could ask was: That’s it? That’s the best she could come up with? I mean, seriously. Her idea is that fungus causes autism and therefore removing thimerosal from vaccines led to an epidemic of fungus-caused autism. It’s as though she doesn’t realize that, in place of thimerosal-containing multidose vials, vaccines were made available in single dose vials, which actually lessen the chances of fungal contamination compared to multidose vials, even those containing thimerosal.

Oh, well. It was entertaining while it lasted. Too bad it turned out to be even less than I had expected.