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Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006
Who Runs Colorado?
The Age of Autism
Denver's Rocky Mountain News says it's time to get over fears that a
mercury-based preservative in flu vaccines could harm children or pregnant
women. Its editorial on Sunday perfectly capsulates one side of what has
become an increasingly heated debate.
"We'd rather get our medical advice from doctors than from
legislators, if it is all the same to you," the editorial began. "But
legislators may not only offer medical advice, they may compel the entire
state of Colorado to follow it, in the form of a misguided and unnecessary
bill that would ban, except in emergencies, the use of vaccines containing
more than a trace amount of mercury for children younger than three and
Say what you want about putting mercury in shots for kids and pregnant
moms -- and we've said before it seems like an odd choice -- there's another
question surfacing as more states debate a ban on the preservative, called
That question is simple: Who runs this joint?
Explicit in the paper's position is that legislators should not be in
the business of offering medical advice. Implicit is the idea that the
experts are invariably right and that meddlers who question them -- the
"you" in "if it's all the same to you" -- need to butt out.
Know-nothing politicos are an easy target. But here's the deal: The
people elect representatives to enact their will -- that's why they're
called "Representative so-and-so."
So "legislators" are not just some special-interest group that can be
airily dismissed. When you tell legislators to put a sock in it, you're
telling citizens to back off and let the experts run things.
But the experts aren't in charge, friends, and every so often the
people decide to remind them of it. The experts are a collection of public
and private individuals and organizations who inevitably have competing
interests -- interests that the editorial fails to acknowledge. The doctors,
and their American Academy of Pediatrics, give and promote the shots in
The health bureaucracies at the state and national levels have a
mission -- prevent infectious disease by increasing vaccination coverage and
adding more vaccines to the mandatory childhood schedule. Preventing
infectious disease is a vital mission, but one that conceivably could run
counter to grueling self-examination.
The pharmaceutical companies have a stake; the insurance companies
have a stake; the researchers have a stake, since many of them are funded by
some of these same parties to the debate.
Of course they're all entitled to a respectful hearing. But why are we
genuflecting before them and brushing off thousands of parents who claim
that thimerosal made their child autistic?
Because "anecdotes" don't count,
according to the experts; only their studies do.
Putting that dubious view aside, it's worth noting that the studies
are vulnerable to their own criticisms. And where is the data that shows
giving thimerosal to pregnant women and young children is safe?
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Voice of the Environment is a 501 (c-3) not-for-profit Montana-based corporation formed in 1991.