Poisoning Our Children
Lewis Seiler, Dan Hamburg
Monday, April 10, 2006

Top Republicans -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., -- recently sold the future of our children to Big Pharma for a paltry $4 bucks a pop.

That's the additional cost to produce a safe vaccine, a vaccine minus the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. Mercury is a deadly neurotoxin that has long been known to cause serious learning disabilities and death, and is strongly suspected in contributing to autism. According to the California Public Schools Autism Prevalence Report for the School Years 1992-2003, the increase in autism prevalence is systemic across the entire United States "and should be an urgent public-health concern ... The disease frequency of autism now surpasses that of all types of cancer combined." The report notes a 1,086 percent cumulative growth rate of autism over the period, with a 23 percent average annual growth rate.

A recent study published in the spring 2006 volume of the peer-reviewed Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons shows that the rate of neurodevelopmental disorders in children has decreased following the removal of thimerosal from most American childhood vaccines. However, only about one-third of the 11 million children vaccinated for influenza this year will receive mercury-free vaccines.

At the end of last year, President Bush signed the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREPA), granting blanket immunity to pharmaceutical companies for vaccine-induced injuries. The measure is a carte blanche for industry, allowing it even to reintroduce mercury in vaccines that are clean, and under the behest of the World Health Organization, to continue shipping tainted vaccine to the "developing world."

The federal government has known enough to stop the use of mercury in vaccines for more than a decade. Industry has known of the dangers of thimerosal since at least 1991.

But using the preservative made the sale of vaccines more profitable. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has at times seemed just as concerned about these profits as the companies themselves. Cynics have noted the "revolving door" between industry and government that seems to alter the perspective of both. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended "the elimination of thimerosal as soon as possible." In 2002, the CDC stated in a press release "all vaccines will be thimerosal-free as soon as adequate supplies are available." Yet, last year the CDC refused to live up to its own policy by claiming "no preference for thimerosal-free vaccines."

Laden with millions in campaign contributions from the industry, some members of Congress are eager to plead that Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth, and Eli Lilly might have to close up shop if they were forced to take responsibility for injuries caused by their products. These companies hardly need the help. Pharmaceuticals, despite their whining about risk and R&D costs, are some of the most profitable businesses in the country with the median profit margin of the top 10 companies more than five times that of all other industries on the Fortune 500 list.

In order to secure passage of the PREPA, Sens. Frist and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, joined by Speaker Hastert, assured their colleagues in the House-Senate conference committee that immunity for the drug companies would not go forward as a tack-on to the 2006 defense appropriations bill. There were no public hearings on the immunity provision, no debate, no disclosure of the proceedings of the committee. Press coverage was virtually nonexistent. According to one prominent member of the committee, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., "That legislation was unilaterally and arrogantly inserted into the bill after the conference was over in a blatantly abusive power play by two of the most powerful men in Congress." Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., called the legislation "a blank check for the industry." Sen. Robert Byrd, D- W. Va., dean of Senate rules, opined: "There should be no dispute. The processes leading to passage of this bill [was] an absolute travesty."

The PREPA is unconstitutional. It removes the right to due process and judicial review for persons injured by vaccines, thus granting a virtual license to kill. Under the new law, companies making vaccines can be grossly negligent and act with wanton recklessness and still escape liability as long as they can show that their misconduct wasn't "willful." It is impossible to conceive of a lower standard for the drug companies or a higher burden of proof for injured parties.

The refusal of the drug companies to take responsibility for the products they produce, and the complicity of the highest levels of government in their refusal, will diminish public confidence in the entire U.S. vaccination program. Already, thousands of mothers, including our own daughters, are fearful of having their infants and toddlers vaccinated.

The PREPA also pre-empts the laws of states, including California, which have passed legislation outlawing mercury in childhood vaccinations. Meanwhile, the CDC continues to send its officials into state legislatures around the country in attempts to abort measures banning mercury.

It's worth considering why the drug companies feel they need such treatment. Is it because they have known for decades that their product is harmful? As we learned with Big Tobacco, denial is the first defense. Eventually, the truth will come out about mercury and the depravity of injecting a neurotoxin into the bodies of infants and toddlers.

Lewis Seiler is president of Voice of the Environment. Dan Hamburg, a former U.S. representative, is executive director.

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