Thursday, March 06, 2008

Straight Talk on Vaccines?

Not to pile on here, but given that Sen. John McCain has now locked up the Republican presidential nomination, his recent comments on the heavily contentious subject of autism and thimerosal is perhaps deserving of more discussion.
So in case you managed to miss it, here’s what McCain told a town hall meeting ahead of Tuesday’s Texas primary:

“It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.” There’s “divided scientific opinion” on the matter, with “many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it.”

As the ABC News blog “Political Punch,” which first reported McCain’s comments pointed out, every government agency and respectable scientific body that has looked into a potential link—including FDA, CDC, NIH, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics—has found no evidence that thimerosal in any way causes autism.

In fact, with the exception of some influenza vaccines, thimerosal has not been used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines since 2001. And since that time, autism rates have only increased.

And yet, the idea of a causal link persists—and McCain has apparently jumped on board. Was he answering the question by the seat of his pants? Pandering to the mother of an autistic child that asked the question? Or does he really believe that a link exists—in which case the vaccines industry should be very, very afraid.

We contacted the McCain campaign for clarification, but they must have been too busy prepping for Super Tuesday III to bother responding.

Other people with close ties to the conservative policy centers are trying to get to the candidate and campaign quickly to cut this subject off before it gets firmly linked to McCain.

One prominent conservative health care advisor, Paul Howard of the Manhattan Institute, has written compellingly about the potential impact of the thimerosal controversy on the vaccine industry (see this story from the last October). Maybe the Manhattan Institute can prevent vaccine bashing from becoming a Republican campaign issue this year.

In any event, we think McCain’s comments suggest another reason why Big Pharma, which has begun to embrace the vaccine business in a big way (see here), should look to the Democrats as the surprising pro-business party in November.

We made a case for a vote for Hillary or Obama in an earlier post, given those candidates' stances on expanding health coverage for uninsured Americans, and the Republicans’ inclination to cut costs under Medicare Part D.

Hillary was also the prime mover behind Vaccines for Children—a program that caused industry initial misery but has clearly contributed to the renaissance in the field (through the injury compensation program, by improving uptake of new vaccines and by stimulating the development of new formulations).

Ever a maverick in his own party, McCain has never had warm and fuzzy feelings for the drug industry. But his comments about the autism and vaccine link are simply misinformed. Let’s hope that some of the people rushing to whisper some balanced information on the thimerosal issue can get this issue off his campaign agenda.

1 comment:

John said...

Well, Kate, since there no such thing as a 'genetic epidemic', what do you think is the cause of this neurocide?

What did the FDA know & when did they know it?

Why hasn't the CDC said anything?

Who is the EPA trying to protect?

Those are the agencies that you should be questioning.