The Age of Autism: 'Amish bill' introducedBy DAN OLMSTED
WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- For the second time this
week, legislation aimed at determining whether vaccines are linked
to an epidemic of unrecognized side effects has been introduced in
Congress -- this time as a direct result of reporting by Age of
The new legislation, titled the Comprehensive Comparative Study
of Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Populations Act of 2006, would order
the National Institutes of Health to study "health outcomes,
including autism," in those two groups.
In essence, the bill proposes the simplest way to exonerate
vaccines as a cause of autism: If the autism rate is about the same
in never-vaccinated children, vaccines are unlikely to play any
Yet such a straightforward and potentially decisive study has
never been done on American children. In the past, public-health
officials have said such an approach would be impractical due to low
numbers of never-vaccinated children, but this column found tens of
thousands of such children -- beginning with the Amish -- in various
locations in the United States.
In our anecdotal and unscientific reporting, the rate of autism
seemed strikingly lower in never-vaccinated children, although those
findings cannot be considered conclusive or convincing. For that, a
scientific study would be needed, as proposed in the new
The bill is being co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.,
and Tom Osborne, R-Neb. It seeks to determine whether there is any
correlation between the increasing number of immunizations in recent
years and the rise in "chronic, unexplained diseases such as autism,
learning disabilities, and other neurological disorders" over the
same time period.
"Childhood immunizations greatly reduce human suffering from
infectious disease, and I think it would be in the best interest of
everyone if we definitively resolve parents' questions about
vaccines," Maloney said in a statement.
Maloney cited particular concern about the mercury-based vaccine
preservative thimerosal, to which children were increasingly exposed
beginning in the late 1980s. It was phased out starting in 1999 at
the recommendation of public-health officials and the American
Academy of Pediatrics.
Subsequent studies have found no association between thimerosal
and autism, but critics say those studies have been inadequate and
beset by conflicts of interest. Nor have they compared vaccinated
vs. unvaccinated populations, in part because officials say such
groups are hard to find in a society where childhood immunizations
are routine -- and mostly mandatory for school attendance.
"In this country we have very high levels of vaccination," CDC
Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told Age of Autism at a news
conference last year. While "such studies could be done and should
be done," she suggested, the obstacles might be overwhelming.
But this column identified several groups that might fit the bill
-- from the Amish in Pennsylvania Dutch country to homeschooled
children to patients of a Chicago family practice.
"I have not seen autism with the Amish," said Dr. Frank Noonan, a
family practitioner in Lancaster County, Pa., who has treated
thousands of Amish for a quarter-century.
"You'll find all the other stuff, but we don't find the autism.
We're right in the heart of Amish country and seeing none, and
that's just the way it is."
In Chicago, Homefirst Medical Services treats thousands of
never-vaccinated children whose parents received exemptions through
Illinois' relatively permissive immunization policy. Homefirst's
medical director, Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, told us he is not aware of
any cases of autism in never-vaccinated children; the national rate
is 1 in 175, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
"We have a fairly large practice," Eisenstein told us. "We have
about 30,000 or 35,000 children that we've taken care of over the
years, and I don't think we have a single case of autism in children
delivered by us who never received vaccines.
"We do have enough of a sample," Eisenstein said. "The numbers
are too large to not see it. We would absolutely know. We're all
family doctors. If I have a child with autism come in, there's no
communication. It's frightening. You can't touch them. It's not
something that anyone would miss."
Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, a Florida family practitioner with ties to
families who homeschool their children for religious reasons, told
Age of Autism he has proposed such a study in that group.
"I said I know I can tap into this community and find you large
numbers of unvaccinated homeschooled," said Bradstreet, "and we can
do simple prevalence and incidence studies in them, and my gut
reaction is that you're going to see no autism in this group."
Osborne and Maloney said such examples undercut claims "there was
not a big enough population to which we could compare the general
vaccinated population. ... The Maloney-Osborne legislation proposes
comparing vaccinated populations with unvaccinated populations such
Clearly, there are children with autism who have never been
vaccinated. Moreover, even a much-lower rate of autism in
never-vaccinated groups would not directly implicate vaccines as a
cause -- other factors could be at work. For instance, the Amish
might have a genetic resistance to the disorder; children receiving
alternative schooling or healthcare might have less exposure to
other conceivable medical, environmental or lifestyle triggers.
But just as clearly, such a study could be done, and the
Maloney-Osborne bill proposes to do it.
Maloney was co-sponsor of another bill introduced Wednesday with
Rep. David Weldon, R-Fla. That bill would give responsibility for
the nation's vaccine safety to an independent agency outside the
CDC. Weldon was harshly critical of the government's monitoring of
The National Autism Association called the two bills "good news
from Washington. NAA applauds Congresswoman Maloney in her
continuing efforts to support families affected by autism with this
new legislation and co-sponsorship of Congressman Weldon's Vaccine
The group urged its members to ask their local representatives to
support the legislation when they are back in their districts during
the August congressional recess.
Copyright 2006 by United Press International. All Rights