A sympathetic account of parents battling the government the and pharmaceutical industry because they’re convinced a form of mercury used in vaccines is the principal cause of their children’s autism.
Kirby, a science contributor to the New York Times, acknowledges that while there is no proof that mercury in vaccines causes autism, neither is there any proof of its safety. Parents of children, mostly boys, who developed autism after being inoculated with vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal have been gathering data that they believe demonstrates a link between the increase in thimerosal-containing vaccination and the increase in U.S. rates of autism—from 1 in 5,000 in the 1980s to 1 in 166 today. One side calls this an epidemic; the other claims it’s the result of better diagnosis and reporting. Kirby creates warm portraits of parents trying desperately to find treatments for their damaged children while, at the same time, carrying on a war with both big government and big business. With a wealth of detail, he shows the activists waging battle on four fronts: in the scientific literature and at science meetings, in the courts, in Congress and with powerful government health agencies—the Centers of Disease Control and the FDA. Although he presents evidence for both sides, the parents, who willingly talked to him, appear in a more favorable light than the bureaucrats, who did not grant him interviews. Kirby points out that while the government agencies and the drug companies reject the activists’ theory that mercury causes autism, its use in pediatric vaccines, except flu shots, is rapidly being phased out in the United States. Further, he notes that an unfortunate result of this affair is the refusal of some parents to allow their children to receive any vaccinations against serious diseases.
With knocks to bureaucrats and kudos to parents, Kirby does a good job of explaining the scientific issues in an unresolved controversy.