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Article of Interest - Autism & Vaccinations

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Bridges4Kids LogoDesperate Measures
Armed with a new study, some parents say vaccines trigger autism. But is skipping shots the answer?
People Magazine, September 27, 2004
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Armed with a new study, some parents say vaccines trigger autism. But is skipping shots the answer? Mike and Lynne Koufakis say their son Jake came into the world a healthy, happy child. Babbling and smiling as a newborn .he seemed to be developing normally. But at 18 months, not long after he received his routine childhood vaccinations, he started to change. "He began slowing down," says Lynne. 45, a stay-at-home mom in Manhasset. N.Y. ‘He lost eye contact and began withdrawing. He was a space cadet, out of it."

Now 8, Jake Koufakis bus been diagnosed with autism -- the second child in his family to have the disorder—and Mike and Lynne Koufakis believe the vaccinations are partly to blame. Their youngest, Jenna, 5, shows no signs of autism, but her frightened parents have stopped vaccinating her altogether. The Koufakises have joined a growing number of parents who suspect Thimerosal -- a mercury-based preservative once commonly used in childhood vaccines -- may be a factor in an apparent explosion in autism cases in recent years. Experts have long said there is no scientific data to support such fears, but a study published in June by Columbia University has re-ignited the debate. The report -- presented to a congressional sub committee Sept. 8—shows Thimerosal triggered autism-like symptoms in a strain of mice genetically susceptible to autoimmune disorders (as are many autistic children). While far from conclusive, activists say the study offers some evidence that outside factors like high mercury levels, not genetics alone may play a part in the rising autism diagnoses. "Parents I know believe there is a connection between vaccines and autism," says Lee Grossman, chairman of the Autism Society of America. "It’s shocking to find a lifelong disability at such high levels. If it were cancer, people would be all over that."

Commonly used for more than 70 years, Thimerosal has been phased out of all childhood vaccines since 1999; now it is present only in tiny amounts in some inoculations. The ingredient remains in most flu shots, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends for children between 6 and 23 months (see box). That fact has fueled reluctance to immunize children—to the frustration of doctors. Vaccines prevent potentially devastating illness: says Dr. Gary Freed, professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School who cared for a child who died of complications from measles because he hadn’t been immunized. "His parents will never forgive themselves—their child died of a disease that could have bacon prevented." As for the Columbia research, Dr. Alfred Bert who participated in a lengthily Institute of Medicine study that rejected any connection between vaccines and autism, says. ‘It’s a leap to translate what happened to the mice into the autistic behavior of children."


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