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National Academies news: vaccines and autism

en found that the immune system or its activation play a direct role in causing autism, the report notes. Autism also has never been documented as a consequence of exposure to high doses of mercury. While the committee agreed that the studies exploring these hypotheses raise interesting questions, they do not address the specifics of how autism could result. Therefore, evidence for any biological mechanism linking vaccines with autism can only be considered theoretical.

Autism is not a single condition, but rather a complex set of severe developmental disorders -- also referred to as autistic spectrum disorders -- characterized by sustained impairments in social interaction and communication abilities, as well as restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. It is unclear how many cases of autism there are, but two reviews of published studies put the prevalence at one case for every 1,000 children. While some information suggests that autism rates may be rising, it is not clear whether the observed increase is real or due to factors such as heightened awareness of the disorder or the use of a broader diagnostic definition.

Thimerosal is an organic mercury compound that is still used as a preservative in some adult vaccines. It began to be removed from vaccines for children in 1999, and as of mid-2000, vaccines that are recommended for universal use in infants and young children are available in forms that have no or only trace amounts of thimerosal.

This study is the eighth and final in a series on vaccine safety sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Institute of Medicine is a private, nonprofit institution that provides health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences. A committee roster follows.
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Contact: Christine Stencel
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
The National Academies
18-May-2004


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